Young organists pave way as professional liturgical musicians

| Melenie Soucheray | May 10, 2016 | 0 Comments
From left, organists Joel Kumro of Our Lady of Peace in Minneapolis and Anne Phillips of Epiphany in Coon Rapids practice at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis. Both are organists and music directors at their parishes. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

From left, organists Joel Kumro of Our Lady of Peace in Minneapolis and Anne Phillips of Epiphany in Coon Rapids practice at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis. Both are organists and music directors at their parishes. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Music lovers recently were treated to the future of organ music as secular and liturgical artistry. Three young musicians presented a recital, “A Romantic Palette: Symphonic Masterworks for Organ,” April 30 as part of the Basilica of St. Mary’s 65th Organ Anniversary Concert series.

All three musicians have studied in the liturgical music program at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University with Kim Kasling, a professor of music and director of the liturgical studies program.

“The organ has been relegated, unfortunately, in the past few decades to a kind of musty place in some church gallery,” Kasling lamented.

Kasling said he has worked with undergraduate and graduate students at CSB and SJU “since the mortar was wet in some of the buildings.” Actually, Kasling has been on the faculty since 1981, during which time he spent 25 years as the organist at the Basilica in Minneapolis as well as a stint at Hamline United Methodist Church in St. Paul.

Anne Phillips, a self-declared farm girl from southern Minnesota, learned the saxophone and piano as a youth. She did her undergraduate work in music at St. Benedict and went on to earn a master’s in theology at CSB and SJU, partnered institutions in St. Joseph and Collegeville.

“I have been studying ever since,” said Phillips, the director of music and liturgy at Epiphany in Coon Rapids.

Matthew Jakubisin, 23, is a native of Cicero, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago.

“I started doing music ministry in high school as a pianist,” Jakubisin recalled. “My home parish had a pretty decent organ, and I heard it played every weekend. I found that I could be working [as a paid church musician], so that kind of got my interest.”

He lives on St. John’s campus, where he earned an undergraduate degree in liturgical music, and is completing his master’s degree while serving as the organist at St. William in Fridley. Jakubisin is searching for full-time work in parish or university music ministry.

Originally from Buffalo, New York, Joel Kumro, 26, is the director of music at Our Lady of Peace in Minneapolis, but will soon be taking the position of choirmaster and organist at St. Benedict parish in Richmond, Virginia.

“My undergraduate studies were actually in voice,” he said. “I lead a double life as a tenor and an organist. That’s the journey that ultimately led me to St. John’s.”

“Becoming an organist in a church position was what brought me back to my faith in a really deep way,” Kumro said. “Thanks to Catholic young adult ministry in Buffalo, I found that there were a lot of us around that are interested in more traditional forms of liturgy in music.”

Kasling believes there is a future for professional liturgical musicians.

“We have a very active recruitment program [at CSB and SJU]. If I had 20 majors, I could fill [all of the available positions].

“I’m inordinately proud of these students,” he added. “Some of our most advanced students have gone out and done wonderful things.”

The recital at the Basilica was an opportunity for Kumro, Phillips and Jakubisin to go beyond liturgical music and show off the organ as a secular, as well as sacred, instrument.

Kasling said it’s important for the students to be able to demonstrate their profound faith and sense of worship. At the same time, they can bring out “a spectacular instrument like this into the public and let her rip.”

“Music is the soul of worship,” Phillips said. “It unites everyone in a common voice. They are able to lift the soul in worship by singing a common text.”

She added: “I think the organ fills the space and supports them. It breathes life into worship.”

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