About this blogger:
Richard J. Clark has served since 1989 as Music Director and Organist at Saint Cecilia Church in Boston, Massachusetts. He is also Chapel Organist (Saint Mary’s Chapel) at Boston College. For the Archdiocese of Boston, he directed the Office of Divine Worship Saint Cecilia Schola. His compositions have been performed on four continents.
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“Oh, the happy choir director who is hired to start work on a brand new choir, or who walks into his first rehearsal a total stranger to the existing group—what a fortunate man he is! The new choir director who is a former member of the choir, or a member of the congregation, or the nephew of the alto soloist, or a former altar boy, or otherwise well acquainted with the choir, is in for a few headaches.”
— Paul Hume (1956)

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Composing Saves My Life
published 20 May 2016 by Richard J. Clark

OMETIMES I HAVE a lot on my mind. We all do. All the time. Sometimes prayer is hard to come by—even when we are in church all the time. (Present in body, but the spirit is asleep like the apostles at Gethsemane.)

There are struggles that preoccupy our lives. There are crosses to bear—crosses unique to each one of us. Interestingly, those crosses are the very things that God calls us to carry in order to serve him better.

Then I look at the crosses others must carry and I realize mine is but a feather. It gives me more than enough strength to carry on. It had better.

As if that was not enough, at discouraging moments, I am pleasantly surprised by sudden opportunities to compose something new, and see it through to the end. As a father of four and working two church jobs, having ample time to compose is something of a miracle. Miracles do happen, and they routinely save my life. For nothing awakens my soul or me happier than composing.

UT COMPOSING IS A HUGE STRUGGLE for me. It is not a blissful, rapturous process. The image of composers in a trance is total garbage—at least it is for me. When I begin writing, the music is dreadful. Horrible. A colossal waste of your time. Perhaps it is complete hubris that I can come up with something of value. Then by sheer will I chip away at the wretched dumpster fire of incongruence on the page. But there is a sense of purpose—a sense of deep longing. I keep faith that frustration and futility is part of the process. Slowly one or two hopeful elements emerge. Maybe one or two more will follow. And so on.

Here is the purpose that languidly surfaces with each revised note: Composing is a form of prayer. It is a form of service to God, the Church, and if we are fortunate, to humanity. It points to something greater and not to oneself. I hope.

This week, I’ve been fortunate to dig into some projects in the midst of some professional and personal interruptions. It is a joyful reminder that God is at the very center of my life. He is in charge of it all. Not me. For this I am relieved and grateful, because If I’m in charge, my soul would look like the veritable dumpster fire that are my initial drafts of composition. Like the creative process, the purification and refinement of one’s souls is a process too.

I have some work to do. So do you. God calls and sustains you because he loves you.

Soli Deo gloria