Internationally respected liturgical director and organist John A. Romeri, formerly the director of Liturgical Music for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, joined the Diocese of Orange as the first Christ Cathedral Director of Music Ministries in January. OC Catholic was able to speak with Dr. Romeri about his plans and goals for Christ Cathedral’s music ministry.
What was it about Christ Cathedral that drew you to this position?
I’d been working with the Diocese of Orange as a consultant, so I was involved from the very beginning. It was an honor to be considered for this position. I have been part of building music ministry programs at three previous cathedrals.
What are your goals in your first year as Director of Music Ministry at Christ Cathedral?
I’m charged with bringing sacred music concerts to campus, creating our own concerts and welcoming performing groups from throughout the country. The first of those is a March 6 performance by the Wheaton College Symphony Orchestra. We welcome world-renowned organist Fred Swan on his 85th birthday for an April 29 concert. And the Sacred Bridge Concert March 12 will feature the de Angelis Vocal Ensemble singing a mixture of Catholic and Jewish music.
We have established a partnership with the Pacific Symphony and we want to reach out to the music community and the Catholic world.
What makes Christ Cathedral unique? What do you hope it will become known for musically?
We are blessed because the cathedral is already known as a place of great music. The campus comes with a reputation and now we must make it famous for outstanding musical liturgies. The Hazel Wright Organ is a very famous organ, so we must make use of that. By its very nature and history Christ Cathedral pushes us to strive for excellence.
What are some of your first challenges?
We are a couple of years from moving into our new cathedral, but we have already begun commissioning new compositions for liturgical music for the celebration. We will have the world premiere of composer Normand Gouin’s communion antiphon, the first step in bringing to life the repertoire of great new music from Catholic composers.
We recently auditioned 150 people for the Cathedral Choir, which has 56 members and has sung its first Sunday Mass. We will form our Diocesan Choir, which will meet all year and feature singers from all over the Diocese. Its first event will be to sing at the Chrism Mass on March 30 at St. Columban’s Parish in Garden Grove.
Did Christ Cathedral and its parish community meet your expectations?
It’s certainly different for me. We have a diverse parish with more than 10,000 people worshipping here in different languages. It’s a unique challenge to include everyone. There’s a delicate balance in offering services in many languages, so we will use Latin in many circumstances because it is the language of our Church. It’s something that unifies us. That’s part of the vision I hope to bring here, one that is essentially Catholic and celebrates both diversity and unity.
How do you envision music as enriching worship at Christ Cathedral?
Music is an integral part of the liturgy. It’s important that the cathedral not only honor its past but have the most beautiful liturgies anywhere. It must be a model for other parishes and set the tone for music in the Diocese. Part of my job is to work with the Diocesan Choir and have them take the repertoire and choral techniques back home to their parishes, where their musicians learn it and it becomes a constant flow. Our Cathedral Choir will be able to sing a variety of styles – including chant, the beautiful music of the Renaissance and new commissions – all of that against the backdrop of the great music the Crystal Cathedral was known for.
How is your vision made possible at Christ Cathedral?
Thanks to wonderful gifts from donors, the Hazel Wright Organ renovation is paid for. Now we are raising funds for an endowment for its maintenance, an organ concert series, and its use in liturgy and concerts.
We’re also working with the development team to establish Friends of Cathedral Music to support future musical endeavors. We want to establish a music school at Christ Cathedral Academy where kids can study in a special track that provides them with a tremendous background in choral singing. We also want to bring more musicians onto our staff as our program grows.