In U.S. Catholic liturgical music, in my view, Richard Proulx is the best of the best of composers. He stood out, right after the Second Vatican Council, for his tremendous musical talent plus his sympathetic understanding of the reformed liturgy. He knew how to bring together the (always evolving) high art musical tradition and the essentially folk character of congregational music. Everything he wrote, from Latin motet to simple vernacular refrain, was well-crafted. (Pray Tell’s obituary and tributes are here and here.)
I once spent many hours pawing through dozens and dozens of Mass settings by various composers, Latin and English, for congregation and choir, from several publishers, written right before, during, and right after the Council. I hoped that some of the first postconciliar vernacular settings, whose texts are very similar to the coming English translation, would be worth reviving. I expected to find some real gems which unjustly got forgotten as everyone (so I’m told, I’m sure the reality is more complex) threw everything out overnight and started singing Kumbaya and Michael Row.
I was disappointed. There are more ways than I realized to be dull, to say nothing in four part harmony, to write an unsingable congregational part that looks suspiciously like a difficult but uninspired soprano line. I came away with a nose full of dust, and greater respect than ever for Richard Proulx’s contribution to the Church.
It is great news that Proulx has gifted most of his liturgical music, manuscripts and published works, to Saint John’s University. At Proulx’s behest, the estate is providing resources as well for the library’s cataloging and acquisition. The Proulx Collection will be a great resource for practitioners and scholars for decades to come. The University is honored to preserve this precious heritage.
The Proulx Collection will nicely complement the Larsen Collection, the resources from Bruce Larsen at Holy Childhood in Saint Paul, where Richard Proulx received his first training and inspiration in sacred music as a young man. It was at Proulx’s encouragement that the Larsen Collection came to Saint John’s about a decade ago.
As trends go, things are looking up in Collegeville for liturgical music. Just now we have more students than ever, undergrad and grad, and one of the largest organ studios in the country. The administration is making most welcome noises about promoting and expanding the sacred music area in the near future. Stay tuned for further news.
Soon, 54 large boxes will arrive from Chicago in Collegeville. And then the fun of digging into it all will begin. I can’t wait!