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An Interview with Kent Tritle

by Gordon Nary

Gordon: What is your favorite musical composition, and why is he your favorite?

Kent: My favorite composition of all is J.S. Bach’s Mass in B Minor. It stands as a compelling compendium of Bach’s stylistic prowess. As such, there is no work more fulfilling to study, perform or simply listen to.

Gordon: What musical instruments do you play?

Kent: I teethed at the piano, so desperately wanting to play like my Mom. From there I transitioned to include organ (starting first with a Conn home organ, complete with rhythm box!). At around that same time I took up the baritone horn. Later I would learn enough guitar to play and teach in the local music store; a bit of flute, violin and enough banjo to play the broadway show, “The Robber Bridgegroom” from onstage. A bit of harmonica came along the way. I entered college as an organ/low brass double major. By the time I entered Juilliard as an undergraduate, I had moved completely to organ as my primary instrument. Conducting came later. As a conductor, any and every bit of time I had with those instruments paved the way for a much deeper, organic connection with the players I work with.

Gordon: What was your first professional position in music?

Kent: The answer to this question depends on how we classify ‘professional’. I first worked for money both as organist and band member. That is, playing for local churches while I was in high school, as well as rock and country bands during that time. The very first time I played for money, to my recollection, was in junior high. I and six companions had formed a band called “Sudden Schock”. We were hired to play repeatedly on a double-decker tourist boat called “The Empress”. In turn we were paid $35- that is, $5 each! We pooled our money to buy musical equipment. On the other end of the spectrum, my first salaried position was as organist for St Andrew’s Lutheran Church in Columbia, Missouri in 1981-1982.

Gordon: When were you appointed Director of Music at Cathedral of Saint John the Divine and what are your primary responsibilities ?

Kent: I was appointed Director of Cathedral Music in September, 2011. My responsibilities at St. John’s include oversight of the full program. These responsibilities range from artistic vision and direction of programming to budgeting and working with all promotional and logistical departments. Musically, most of my time is spent directing our choirs, though I share the organ duties as well.

Gordon: How can music bring us closer to God?

Kent: Music can communicate where words alone fail. In this regard, I believe music has the ability to open for us the path to transcendence. Music lives in that liminal place between heaven and earth. We can’t ‘see’ the musical sound, we can’t physically ‘touch’ the musical sound, but musical sound is as real as anything we CAN see and touch. We can’t ‘see’ the human spirit, nor can we ‘touch’ the human spirit, but our spirit is as real as anything we CAN see and touch. It is a mystery, a great wonder, and yet no wonder at all that music therefore should have a unique capacity to put us in touch with the Divine.

Thank you for inviting me, Gordon!

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