Jewish professor writes Roman Catholic Mass Music: The educator's first major composition will make its debut Saturday. It will honor the founder of Mount St. Mary's College.

October 28, 1998|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

EMMITSBURG -- Andrew B. Rosenfeld, music professor and observant Jew, has drawn on his background to pen his first major composition: a Roman Catholic Mass.

Rosenfeld, one of two full-time music professors at Mount St. Mary's College and Seminary in Emmitsburg, has written the "Mass for John Dubois" in honor of the founder of the 190-year-old school. The Mass, which features choir and brass, will premier Saturday as part of festivities launching a $30 million college fund-raising campaign.

It all began with Rosenfeld noodling on the piano last fall, as he often does in his office, playing musical games, solving musical puzzles. Once, just for the heck of it, he set the words of the Latin Mass to the melodies from "The Sound of Music."

That day, into his head popped one of the traditional musical settings for the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead. The mournful, descending melody seemed to work well for the Kyrie eleison (Greek for "Lord Have Mercy"), a prayer in the Catholic Mass in which the congregation asks God to forgive its sins.

"It lent itself surprisingly well to a translation," said Rosenfeld, 36.

His Kyrie was used at the college's liturgies during the Advent season before last Christmas. After that, "we began to talk about him writing a Mass," said the Rev. Gerard Francik, Mount St. Mary's campus minister.

Rosenfeld realized he would need help in his composition, in understanding how a Mass was conducted, its history, its theology and its rhythm. He would frequently consult Francik. "Every so often, he'd come over with a piece of music and ask, 'What do you think of this?' " Francik said. "Of course, Andy being Jewish, he'd ask 'Is this the right way to approach this? Am I getting this right?' "

Help from student

Rosenfeld also enlisted Nunzio "Nick" D'Alessio, a student majoring in music and theology, who took an intense interest in the Mass. D'Alessio helped Rosenfeld come up with the text for the Responsorial Psalm and words for some of the petitions in the Kyrie.

"What I helped with was the ritual component, making sure the music fit the ritual for the Mass," D'Alessio said.

And along the way, Francik pointed out a compositional limitation: A key performer in any Mass is the presiding priest, and Francik noted that few of his brethren have operatic training. Rosenfeld decided to use a form of plain chant for much of the presider's part, which Francik will sing on Saturday.

The Kaddish melody is a recurring theme in Rosenfeld's Mass, which he balanced with a style the composer described as "celebratory."

"I very much hear a Jewish sound there. But I also hear the very traditional Roman liturgy sound," Rosenfeld said. "There are moments when it's very traditional in the Roman sense. And there are moments when you can hear the Semitic roots of our ancestors in the faith."

A mixed marriage

In addition to teaching at a Catholic college, Rosenfeld has one other connection to the faith: his wife, Kathleen. His mixed marriage, ironically, awakened his own religious roots.

"Before I married Kate, I was essentially not very observant," said Rosenfeld, who has what he calls "a mock mezuza" on his office door, a paper version of the small box containing a tiny prayer scroll that Jews put on their doorposts. "The depth of her devotion struck a chord in me, and I began to explore my own roots in a way that would do my father proud."

This Mass is a way of honoring the religion of his wife and of the students and faculty at Mount St. Mary's. And it honors DuBois, the French priest who founded the school in 1808.

"This school has been a welcoming community. I've always had a sense they've welcomed me for my background," he said.

Pub Date: 10/28/98

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