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An Interview with Matthew Bobela

Gordon: When did you decide to have a career in music?

Matthew: I decided to pursue a career in music education after participating in All-District and All-State Choirs through my time in high school. The powerful, evocative sounds the directors elicited from us - I aspired then to be someone who could create that same sound for a greater spiritual purpose in service to Our Lord and His Church.

Gordon: Where did you attend University, what degree did you earn, what was your favorite course, and why was it your favorite?

Matthew: I am currently pursuing a Master of Music Education from Missouri State University in Springfield, Missouri. I graduated summa cum laude from and served as a commencement speaker at Missouri Western State University in my hometown of St. Joseph, Missouri in May 2022 where I earned a Bachelor of Music Education. Aside from choral ensembles and voice lessons, my favorite courses were those pertaining to music theory. With my affinity for math, music theory - especially post-tonal and 20th/21st century theory - was so fun to learn. These courses gave me many tools to discover the ways in which the great master composers operated their virtuosic craft as well as the ways in which devout Catholic composers embedded religious importance into their music not only through text but also in form and style.

Gordon: When did you serve as choir director at the Cathedral of St. Joseph and what is one of your favorite memories when you were there:

Matthew: I served as the Choir Director of the Cathedral of St. Joseph in St. Joseph, Missouri from September 2018 through July 2022. Their former choir director and dear friend of mine needed to resign that position upon being elected the city’s mayor, and he offered me the position to kickstart my career in Church music while simultaneously pursuing my undergraduate degree.

While there, my responsibilities only included organizing choral anthems for their parish choir which sang twice monthly in addition to special feasts and other occasions. (The bulk of the overall music director responsibilities such as selecting weekly hymns, cantor development, and other such tasks were still being handled by the Cathedral of St. Joseph’s longtime music director who at that time still handled such duties while adding the title “emeritus” to his then-volunteer role.)

During my nearly four-year tenure, the all-volunteer choir’s enrollment increased over fifty percent; the choir’s repertoire was vastly broadened to include sacred works of the Renaissance through the modern era; and the choir embarked on a series of special projects and liturgies which the choir had never previously experienced.

Such projects included a joint-concert with the choirs of Central College (Pella, Iowa) during their 2019 tour of the Kansas City metropolitan area; recording two CDS as parish fundraisers (one for my home parish of St. Patrick Catholic Church in St. Joseph, Missouri and another for the Cathedral of St. Joseph); and leading the music for various large, festive liturgies which marked the first Masses celebrated by newly-ordained priests or the revival of St. Joseph’s city-wide Eucharistic procession.

While all of these memories hold a special place in my heart, my favorite experiences there were the weekly nuances and camaraderie experienced by all of us musicians, an ensemble including (at various points throughout my four years there) my mother; my former highsnchool English teacher; the Sisters in Jesus the Lord (a community of canonnesses which relocated to St. Joseph, Missouri during my last year at the Cathedral of St. Joseph); and sometimes even the parochial vicar of the Cathedral of St. Joseph!

Gordon: Please share with our readers some information about your work as Elementary Music Teacher at St. Gabriel the Archangel Catholic School in Kansas City, Missouri.

Matthew: My work as the Elementary Music Teacher at St. Gabriel the Archangel Catholic School is one of my responsibilities as the Director of Sacred Music and Liturgy at St. Gabriel the Archangel Catholic Church and School. In the education side of my role, I teach weekly music classes for over 130 Preschool through 8th Grade students and direct the school choir, the St. Gabriel Chorus Angelorum. Since I began working at St. Gabriel the Archangel Catholic Church and School, the school choir’s enrollment has more than doubled and has begun an exciting expansion of performance opportunities - including a performance for the Missouri Society of the Sons of the American Revolution for their 2023 State Convention.

I am also serving as an integral member of the school’s implementation of a Catholic liberal arts curriculum. In regards to sacred music, I carry this out through the study of sacred music beyond the scope of traditional hymn singing or Mass music preparation. This includes thorough lyric analyses through narration, meditation, and Scripture doodling in addition to lessons in the various eras of sacred music history.

Gordon: You also serve as Director of Sacred Music and Liturgy at St. Gabriel the Archangel Catholic Church. What do you enjoy most about your work there?

Matthew: Since my role as Director of Sacred Music and Liturgy at St. Gabriel the Archangel Catholic Church is twofold with both parish and school responsibilities, I would like to share an enjoyment from both sides of my ministry. It brings me much joy each and every day to use sacred music as an instrument in cultivating the minds of the school’s young scholars as they seek the truth, beauty, and goodness of our richly profound Catholic faith. Within my parish work, elevating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass with purposefully and meaningfully selected sacred music is what emboldens my ministry at every Mass. When congregations can hear beautiful sacred music which expands upon the themes of a Mass’s Scripture readings and antiphons, what a glorious moment in which we can unite ourselves with heavenly hosts which

Gordon: How can Sacred Music bring us closer to God?

Matthew: I see sacred music as a person’s most noble and heartfelt expression of love for God and his Church. While the common adage often attributed to St. Augustine reads “The one who sings prays twice,” I like to further contemplate on how the uniqueness of man’s singing capabilities far surpasses that of any other earthly creation. While birds and other animals may “sing” in their ways and while man-made instruments can produce beautiful sounds both individually and collectively, it is the human voice alone which has the distinct honor of conveying text through song. And what better way is there for thanking and loving God for this most generous gift than by using that gift to sing his praises or to honor Our Blessed Mother and the saints? Pope Benedict XVI (still Cardinal Ratzinger at the time of its writing) greatly encapsulates all of this when he says, “The singing of the Church comes ultimately out of love. It is the utter depth of love that produces the singing. ‘Cantare amantis est,’ says St. Augustine, singing is a lover’s thing. In so saying, we come again to the trinitarian interpretation of Church music. The Holy Spirit is love, and it is he who produces the singing. He is the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit who draws us into love for Christ and so leads to the Father” (The Spirit of the Liturgy pg. 142).

Gordon: Who is your favorite Sacred Music composer and which of that composer's works do you enjoy most?

Matthew: Asking a musician to pick their favorite composer or work is like asking a parent to pick their favorite child! When contemplating early Church music (excluding the profoundly beautiful and authentically-Catholic Gregorian chant), I love the music of Fr. Tomás Luis de Victoria. While maintaining the standards and glory of late-Renaissance polyphony like the works of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Orlando di Lasso, and Wiliam Byrd, I find Fr. Victoria’s works - especially his “Jesu Dulcis Memoria” - are the most accessible for the size of a medium-large volunteer parish choir (15-20 singers). Regarding compositions of the past hundred or so years, I love the grandiosity and potency of the late-19th and early-20th century British music revival as seen in composers such as Charles Villiers Stanford (I love is setting of “Ye Choirs of New Jerusalem”) and Ralph Vaughan Williams (I am in awe of the simplistic beauty in his setting of Psalm 34 “O Taste and See” and the triumphant nature of the antiphon “Let All the World in Every Corner Sing” from his Five Mystical Songs). However, if I had to pick a singular piece as my favorite, I would choose Harold Friedell’s “Draw Us in the Spirit’s Tether.” I have sung and/or directed this piece for several special liturgies for close family members. Its flowing organ accompaniment combined with its full and soaring choral harmonies make it one of my favorites.

Gordon: Thank you a great and incisive interview.

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