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placeholder August 10, 2009   •   VOL. 47, NO. 14   •   Oakland, CA
Organist appointed cathedral’s new music director

Rudy de Vos

There are probably as many different stories of religious conversions as there are human beings. For Rudy de Vos, new director of music for the Cathedral of Christ the Light, it was “the beauty of Gregorian chant, music and liturgy” that swept him through the doors of Catholicism. De Vos, a lifelong member of the Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa, converted during his work as musical director for St. Anne Parish in Rochester, N.Y.

“My conversion was very similar to the French writer Paul Claudel who as an unbeliever in his teenage years experienced a sudden conversion at the age of 18 on Christmas Day, 1886, while listening to a choir sing Vespers in the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris,” said de Vos, 30.

Claudel wrote of the incident: “In an instant, my heart was touched and I believed.”

De Vos’ moment of grace was preceded by an initial trepidation as he adjusted to his new surroundings at St. Anne’s. “I had never played organ in the Catholic Church before, and had never been to a Catholic liturgical celebration,” he wrote in an e-mail to The Voice. “But I learned quickly.” He completed the RCIA program and was received into the Church at last year’s Easter Vigil.

The son of a Dutch Reformed church pastor (now deceased) and a social worker mother, de Vos as a little boy gravitated towards the piano in his aunt’s house. His own home did not have one. “I would just go and play random keys on the piano,” he said. He also enjoyed singing in kindergarten. “As far back as I can remember I loved music.”

“It is such a powerful medium that teaches people from different cultures and even brings people together,” he explained.

By the time he was six, his parents realized that their son had a musical gift so they bought a piano and gave him formal piano lessons. When he was 10, he decided he wanted to learn to play the organ, too. Though his feet could barely reach the pedals, he taught himself to play. “This big instrument with all of its pipes and different tonal colors always fascinated me.”

De Vos was 11 when he got his first position as an organist at a church in Johannesburg. With it came the realization that “I should probably start taking lessons since I will be paid for my services and should learn the professional craft of organ playing.”

Subsequently, he earned an undergraduate degree from the University of Pretoria and a teacher’s licentiate in piano and organ from the University of South Africa. Before leaving South Africa, de Vos had won the keyboard division of most competitions he entered, including the prestigious Stephanus Zondagh Scholarship for Overseas Study.

De Vos arrived in the U.S. in 2002 to begin work on his master’s degree at the University of North Texas in Denton. Two years later, he moved to Rochester, New York, for doctoral studies at the Eastman School of Music. There he juggled his job at St. Anne’s with duties as a graduate assistant and a teaching assistant in organ.

He quickly discovered the link between St. Anne’s and the University of Rochester, which has a large international community. Most of the Catholic students attended the parish’s Solemn Mass, which included Gregorian chant that, de Vos said, works well in multi-ethnic gatherings. “Everyone can appreciate the mystical quality of the music and the universality of the language,” he said.

Last January, when de Vos saw the Oakland cathedral job posting in the American Guild of Organists magazine, he decided to apply. So did more than 70 musicians from both inside and outside the U.S., according to Father Paul Minnihan, cathedral provost.

The search committee quickly went to work reviewing the daunting stack of resumes with painstaking precision, whittling them down to a manageable 12, and then to the final three candidates.

Each of these finalists came to Oakland for two days of interviews with committee members and Bishop Salvatore Cordileone. Topics included organ music, pastoral life and musical vision. Each candidate had an opportunity to play the cathedral organ.

Narrowing the field to a finalist was exceedingly difficult, said Father Minnihan “The talent we had to choose from was incredible.”

De Vos arrived in Oakland on Aug.1. He spent his first two Sundays “sitting in the pew with me, and observing the Masses to see what’s in place,” said Father Minnihan.

One of de Vos’ duties will be to grow each of the established Vietnamese, Spanish and English choirs.

De Vos told The Voice that he envisions developing a cathedral choir to sing at the Sunday Mass when Bishop Cordileone is presiding, and at other liturgical celebrations, eventually including Sunday Vespers. His other plans include developing a cantor training program for both cathedral cantors and those working in parishes throughout the diocese, a cathedral concert series, and a cathedral choir school.

 
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