by Gordon Nary
Gordon: How long have you served as a cantor at Assumption and what initially attracted you to be part of Assumption's Music Ministry?
John: I was singing at Holy Name Cathedral. The Associate Organist, Sheila McAndrews, was playing part-time at Assumption and had a few of us sing for the Masses. I really loved singing at such an intimate space compared with the large space of the Cathedral. I quit the Cathedral and moved happily to Assumption
Gordon: How are the weekly hymns planned for the Masses?
John: The hymns are planned by Maxine Joachim, the organist. I plan the music for the choir
Gordon: Are there specific guidelines that affect the planning of the music liturgy?
John: There are a number of publishing companies, GIA, OCP and others that suggest proper hymns for the Sunday liturgies.
Gordon: When I look back at all of the Masses that I have attended at Assumption during the past 25 years, in addition to some homilies by Father Joe, the Masses at which you sang Schubert's Ave Maria
after which there was always applause by the parishioners are the most memorable. Approximately how many times you have sung this during Mass?
John: I don’t sing the Ave Maria unless it’s a Marian Feast Day or a special event, perhaps an anniversary. Other than weddings, when I’ve sung the Ave Maria hundreds of times, at these Masses, a few times a year.
Gordon: It may be difficult for some to remember that many years ago there were churches who would not approve Schubert's Ave Maria sung at Mass. Could you explain to our readers the reason for this?
John: The reason I heard is that it was originally used by Sir Walter Scott for his poem “The Lady Of The Lake”, a secular piece, in German
Gordon: There may be some of our readers who may not be aware that they can purchases a CD of your recording of Catholic Latin Classics with the Cathedral Singers or an MP3 of Panis Angelicus. When did you make this recording and what other hymns have you recorded for them?
John: While I was at Holy Name Cathedral, the Director, Richard Proulx, was a highly esteemed composer and liturgist. In 1991, he founded The Cathedral Singers, as an independent recording ensemble. There are over twenty recordings of a great variety of choral music. I have a number of solos on these recordings. Richard died in 2010.
Gordon: You have also appeared in many musicals including Evita at Chicago's top theaters. As you know, there are several Assumption parishioners who always attend your local cabaret performances. My favorite was "A Little Coward In The Night." at Davenports. Your and Suzy Petri's performance of Matelot from that show is a special treasure.
John: With Assumption as my main job, I am available for other musical events: Parties, Seniors, Cabaret, Weddings, Funerals. I am currently working on a Duets show;
Gordon: Possibly some of our readers who are PBS donors could recommend that WTTW broadcast Let's Duet. I saw it at Davenports and it is an exceptional production.
You were an honoree at the 2007 The Helen Coburn Meier and Tim Meier Arts Achievement Award, Could you tell us something about the award?
John: The Meier Achievement Award provides a cash award to Chicago-area artists in music, theater, visual arts, literature and dance who are in mid-career and have demonstrated both talent and persistence in pursuing their craft. Special emphasis is placed on overlooked or under publicized talent who are “pushing the envelope,”that is, continuing to innovate, as well as community involvement. The awards are decided by anonymous nominators and selected by the Board of the Foundation.
Gordon: For some of our readers who may want to attend an Assumption Mass at which you will serve as a cantor, you tell us at which Masses you primarily serve?
John: As chief cantor at Assumption, I schedule the cantors. Each of the other Cantors, Kate Noon, Valerie Glowinski, and Cary Lovett, each sing at other Churches. At the end of each month I get their schedules and then plan the schedule for Assumption. Each month the schedule changes.
Gordon: Thank you for the great interview.