A Tribute to Richard Proulx

This longer tribute to Richard Proulx is written by Michael Silhavy. He is a recent graduate of Saint John’s School of Theology-Seminary with an MA in liturgical music and his research specialization is the work of Richard Proulx. Other tributes are found above.

For the past many years I had the good fortune of working with Richard in creating an annotated catalog of all his works. What started as a simple thesis project (thanks to Kevin Vogt, who has posted above) grew into an obsession. We were scheduled to have a good 4-5 days in Chicago in March to go through his files. He initially wanted to toss notes and sketches and manuscripts, I pleaded they be sent to Saint John’s. Alcuin Library will be sole location where all his works can be found in one place. The out-of-date and un-updated version can still be accessed at www.richardproulx.com.

He was happy to see the Richard Proulx Hymnary finally appear in print this summer. Of course, about two weeks after publication he found a hymn he had written and forgotten about. (I sense there are many more!) And I think of all the manuscripts that he chose never to send off for publication.

It was touching to see him in action as a pastoral musician planning the music for his brother Jeff’s funeral this past August. Jeff enjoyed Native American culture and Richard programmed a wonderful Crete alleluia found in the Methodist Hymnal and the Lakota tune LACQUIPARLE  (Many and Great). It was in a church with just a piano, so he arranged most of the music for flute, hand drum and cantor. His Corpus Christi Mass and other unaccompanied pieces were sung. Rob Strusinski and some students from the University of St. Thomas assisted with the music. (They had just been involved with a wonderful production of his chancel opera The Pilgrim earlier that spring.) Richard’s mom, still quite spry in her 90’s, asked if On Eagle’s Wings could be sung as the psalm. Richard was happy to do so (he held Michael Joncas’ scholarship in highest regard and really enjoyed some of Mike’s newer and larger choral works), but in a playful way reminded his mom that “you know, mom, I’ve written some pretty good psalms too”.

You may have heard that Richard Hillert died the same night as Richard. At one point or another when a musician dies, we’ve all been guilty of a quick, cheap, trite line like “the heavenly chorus never sounded better, blah, blah, blah…”  But the image of Hillert’s Festival Canticle and Proulx’s Community Mass Sanctus ascending together on the same night is really too much to think about!  And there was the incredible irony of Holy Childhood School in Saint Paul – with its famous music tradition that he led – announcing it was closing on the very day he died. The end of an era, indeed.

Fond memories of the many times I shuttled him back and forth from St. Paul to Chicago, always trying to take a scenic route. Baumgartner’s Cheese Shop in Monroe, WI was his favorite lunch spot. The car trips were where much of the work on the collection was done as he talked about his pieces into a tape recorder. Also fond memories of having to deliver the script he prepared for the FDLC meeting at which he was honored with the McManus award. You can imagine that his words were direct, firm and not without a little drama to which every artist is entitled. All I could think of as I stood behind the podium and in front of members of the BCL was “Don’t shoot the messenger.” (Full text is here.)

Michael Silhavy, archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis

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