Musical Musings (August 28, 2016)
It is with the deepest gratitude that I have this opportunity to introduce myself. My name is James D. Wetzel, and I am the parish’s Director of Music and Organist. I grew up in Oakmont, Pennsylvania, a small town on the Allegheny River north of Pittsburgh known for its country club that occasionally hosts the U.S. Open Championship. Pittsburgh’s Saint Paul Cathedral was my spiritual home and its music director, Donald Fellows, was my first organ teacher.
In 2005, I moved to New York to attend The Juilliard School, from which I received a bachelor’s degree in organ performance studying under Paul Jacobs. As part of Juilliard’s exchange program, I spent a year reading early
Christianity and apologetics at Columbia University. I went on to earn a master’s degree and a professional studies
certificate in conducting from Manhattan School of Music under Kent Tritle. My master’s thesis was on Catholic
polyphony of 20th century England.
For the last year, I was the interim Organist and Choirmaster of Saint Catherine of Siena, during which time I had the privilege of getting to know many of you. It also allowed me to witness first-hand the initial stages of the merger; and I hope that that experience has sensitized me to the community’s needs as we embark on this next chapter together.
Before Saint Catherine’s, I served as the Organist and Choirmaster of midtown’s Church of Saint Agnes from
2010-2015. In addition to its busy liturgical schedule, Saint Agnes’ choir sang for a number of special events, including a performance of Mozart’s Requiem in Carnegie Hall with Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. During my undergraduate studies, I was the assistant organist at Saint Malachy’s – The Actors’ Chapel and later, the organ scholar of the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, working under Bruce Neswick.
As a concert organist, I have performed with the American Symphony Orchestra, the American Classical Orchestra, the Collegiate Chorale, the Oratorio Society of New York, and the Orchestra of Saint Luke’s, the last for a forthcoming recording of Kurt Weill’s oratorio The Road of Promise. This season, I am looking forward to local recitals at Saint John the Divine, Newark’s Basilica of the Sacred Heart, and Saint Mary the Virgin in Times Square to which you are all most welcome (dates will be announced in advance). Additionally, I have been the assistant conductor for the Greenwich Choral Society in Connecticut since 2010 and teach piano at the Saint Thomas Choir School. I also taught for several years as an adjunct lecturer in Hunter College’s music department. I am on the board of the New York City Chapter of the American Guild of Organists and the Catholic Artists Society and am a member of the New York Purgatorial Society, the Society for Catholic Liturgy, and the Saint Wilfred’s Club for Organists.
Since my arrival at Saint Vincent Ferrer this summer, the kind outpouring of support, encouragement, and welcome from the Dominican communities and parishioners has been overwhelming! My most sincere thanks go to Fr. Walter for entrusting me with the great responsibility of directing this music program. Working with a pastor who is so caring, knowledgeable, and dedicated continues to be both a professional and personal joy. The musical and liturgical vision that he articulated in bulletin letters as part of the merger process is nothing short of extraordinary. The parish has in
Fr. Innocent a priest who is also a noted chant scholar as an enormous asset, and I look forward to collaborating with him as we introduce sung Sunday Vespers this fall!
I cannot wait for the new season to get started in earnest, and, as the Parish Choir begins at Saint Catherine of Siena on September 11th, the Sunday Music Class and Vespers begins on September 18th, and Solemn Mass resumes at Saint Vincent Ferrer on October 2nd, I will write to you again to provide details regarding the musical ministries with which the parish is full.
Meeting parishioners on the weekend is difficult because I am generally playing a prelude as you arrive and a
postlude as you leave; however, I hope to get to know as many of you as possible as my fiancée Kim and I make our spiritual home here. For now, I ask that you continue to support the music program in any way you can, but especially through prayer. May it always glorify God in heaven and uplift our brothers and sisters here on earth. In closing, I share this daily prayer for musicians and hope you will offer it on behalf of our parish’s mission:
Bless, O Lord, us thy servants who minister in thy temple.
Grant that what we sing with our lips we may believe in our hearts,
and what we believe in our hearts we may show forth in our lives.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Sincerely yours in Christ,