St. Joseph Parish
Fr. Paul Update
Some of you have not heard from me in a VERY long time. I hope to catch you all up, but better sit yourself down, grab a favorite drink and/or snack and settle in for a bit of a read.
In 2012, as you all know, I left to go to music school in Cambridge…the one near Boston, not the other one. In 2014 I graduated with a Graduate Performance Diploma in Vocal Performance, most of which was art song. In October of 2013, half way through the semester of a class (Aria and Monologue) in the opera department I was invited by the chair of the department, Donna Roll, to come back and do a GPD there. So in April I wrote to the bishop requesting permission for the second two-year sabbatical and, much to my surprise, was granted it! And this past May I graduate with a SECOND GPD, this time in Opera Performance. Each spring semester we do an opera with orchestra. In 2013 it was The Saint of Bleeker Street, a work by Gian Carlo Menotti. It was, as many operas are, a very dark work. I managed to be in several different background roles, which is fine by me! I was a neighbor in the opening scene, the bartender in the marriage scene, in which I got to sing two whole lines and make an obscene gesture in Italian, led the procession for the feast of San Gennaro, and at the very end a bishop! Most amusing about that were the comments made by several people in the audience. My favorite one was made by the brother of Donna. He leaned over to her and said, “Would you look at that. It’s almost as though he really knows how to wear those vestments and stuff.” To which Donna replied, “He damned well better, he’s a Catholic priest!” Several of the faculty and staff at the school made comments to me afterward and they were all somewhere between amused and stunned at how things looked. Yeah…guess I am a natural (at being a dress-up bishop anyway).
The second opera we did, the one this past spring was L’elisir d’amore by Gaetano Donizzeti (sp?). This was, truly, a comic opera. We had a lot of fun, and yes, hard work too, putting this on. The conductor was great, a young man, who was incredibly patient with everyone. He didn’t explode at anyone for screwing up. He simply looked at them and said that they needed to practice that more. He was also very concerned that the tempi (speed we took things at) was/were comfortable for the singers, not too fast especially. Really cool guy to work with.
Among the very interesting things that Donna makes us do is become very comfortable in our bodies, working with the space around us, and being very flexible with our voices. She is demanding as a voice teacher (I switched from another teacher) and she is unrelenting when she hears what you can do in your voice. Yeah, I learned a whole lot from her, and as a result my singing voice is WAY different from it was even from the year before. My vocal range is much higher, but I lost a number of my lower notes. When I told Donna about how disappointed I was at that her remark was simply that my voice had changed so much because of all the training I had gotten. So now, instead of being a bass-baritone I am a lyric baritone. I realize this is outside of the range of knowledge for most of you. Sorry about that. Just know that it is higher, and much more solid than ever before. Coolness plus.
I also realized how much older than my classmates on several occasions when I would use an expression that those “of a certain age” would immediately know, and these younger whippersnappers would have no idea of. Cultural references were completely out of whack, frames of reference….we both had to explain some things to the other as time went on. Wow…..
I have also done a few concerts in the parish where I was in residence, St. Francis of Assisi, Medford. It was a great living experience, and the folks in the parish were really nice to me. I did a concert May of last year with the church choir, the Children’s (family) choir, a trumpet and flute along with our organist at the piano. The organist, Oksana Bereskina, was trained at the Moscow Conservatory. So you can imagine how great she is at the keyboard. It was really nice. The main piece was the Five Mystical Songs by R V Williams. Oksana derived a part for the trumpet and flute players for several of the numbers, and they worked out fairly well. I honestly do not remember what the other numbers were, but they were fun as well, I’m sure. (he says with his fingers crossed)
I did a concert on 14 February this year called, “Love Songs: the Good, the Sad and the Really, Really Weird.” (Catherine Bell…I FINALLY did that concert!!) I drew from art song, pop song, folk song opera, and John Dowland. The Really, Really Weird set was drawn from Schwanengesang, by Franz Schubert.Trust me when I say that they are really really weird. They go from flirty to obsessed. I really enjoyed singing them, especially “Doppelganger” which is the first of them that I learned.
At the beginning of June I did another concert with the church choir, who are really good, like I said above. In about two weeks/five rehearsals they learned “Food! Glorious Food” from Oliver, Since by Man Came Death, from Handel’s Messiah, the English verses to “A les entendre dire” a French (obviously!) religious song, the women learned “The Little Horses,” the men learned “Long Time Ago, and they all learned “Zion’s Walls” from Aaron Copland’s collection Old American Songs. Yes, I know that all but one were in unison, but they still had to be learned! And they did fairly well at it as well. The reason we had only two weeks worth of rehearsals was that Oksana had to go to Germany for her brother’s funeral, and came back with a serious sinus infection. Not fun. But we did sing out little hearts out and ended up, as always having a good time. There was a reception afterward, and most of the audience was there for it. It was also a good-bye for me, as the following week on Friday, June 10, I moved up here to Canada permanently!
Yeah…that is a whole different kind of story. Last summer I worked at the shrine at Ste-Anne-de-Beaupre, from June through August. Please note as a starting point I have the chaplain for a pilgrimage group that came up for the novena (9 days of prayer) and the feast of Ste Anne (26 July) since 1990. So, with that as the actual starting point….every once in a while the team here would throw a question at me that seemed to come out of nowhere. Like, for instance, “Do you see your time here as having a good balance between you as a priest and you as a musician?” Really?? What the hellfire kind of question is that? But taken together with a few other questions, it started to feel like a summer long job interview. I emailed a few of my pilgrimage friends about this and began signing off my emails with “Fr. Paul the Paranoid.” The day before I left, as my friend (and boss) Fr. Bernard Gauthier was giving me a ride to pick up the rental car, he finally popped the question, “If you were given the chance to work here permanently, would you?” I said, without hesitation, “Sure.” He just looked at me weird, then I explained how I suspected that this was coming up and was prepared to give my yes to it. I just needed to check with my family to make sure they were okay with me moving here. I found out that my mother, who died in 2009, had spoken to my sister Rosalie about this, and was convinced that I was just waiting for her, Mom, to die before moving up here. I was shocked to learn this. While talking to my sister Wednesday night she reminded me about how much I looked forward to coming up here and how difficult it was to go back to the states. I never realized it was that prominent.
Oh well….so, here I am. I moved up here June 10, lock, stock, and barrel. There are still a few things back at the rectory in Medford which I will be going to pick up in October some time. That will be the first time I will be able to get away. I hope to be able to visit with some people while I am there.
So, here I am, in the place I have been dreaming about being in for a LONG time, enjoying the bejeebers out of most things. Scheduling is NEVER fun, but it is tolerable, especially when one finds a system to make it work.
I hope all are well, that life is treating all of you at least pretty well.
With kind regards
(Fr) Paul Bombardier