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Catholic Voice
November 5, 2012   •   VOL. 50, NO. 19   •   Oakland, CA
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Nativity collection shows respect
for image, artisans

Celebrating love and commitment
Bishop: Teachers must convey
culture across several generations
Acclaimed musician Rawn Harbor to retire
Rawn Harbor
The Catholic voice

As a music student at Furman University, near his hometown of Greenville, South Carolina, Rawn Harbor said that he did what he had to do to stay off the stage. "I was never a stage person," he said during a recent interview at the offices of The Catholic Voice.

"That's why I chose to concentrate on music theory," said Harbor, founder of the acclaimed gospel music workshops that bear his name. When he had to present his work as a senior on campus he had someone else perform it so that his appearance at the end of the concert to take a bow would be as brief as possible.

Although the self-described introvert doesn't long for the limelight, Harbor nonetheless has become one of the best-known African American Catholic composers and musicians in the U.S. This month he will bring his gospel music workshop for the first time to the Cathedral of Christ the Light. The Rawn Harbor Experience, "African-American Celebration: A House Not Built by Hand," will be Nov. 8-10. Rehearsals will be from 7-9 p.m. Nov. 8 and 9 and from 9:40 a.m.-3 p.m. Nov. 10. The workshop choir will sing at the 5:30 p.m. Mass at the Cathedral.

These choir workshops have been an annual practice at Oakland's St. Columba Church for years. Held during the parish's African American Celebrations during Black History Month, this event has drawn the best African American Catholic musicians in the Bay Area as well as choir members of various ethnicities eager to learn African American Catholic worship traditions.

Gospel music workshop

The Rawn Harbor Experience, "African-American Celebration: A House Not Built by Hand"
Nov. 8-10

Rehearsals: 7-9 p.m. Nov. 8 and 9; 9:40 a.m.-3 p.m. Nov. 10

The workshop choir will sing at the 5:30 p.m. Nov. 10 Mass
Cathedral of Christ the Light
2121 Harrison St., Oakland
Although a joyous occasion, these upcoming workshops will be a bittersweet experience for Harbor, 65, who has served several years as a pastoral associate and liturgist at St. Columba Church. He recently announced his retirement and will be moving sometime next year to be closer to his relatives living on the East Coast.

Harbor was the 10th child born into a family of 11 children. "Seven of us are still alive," he said. His younger brother was 3 weeks old — and Harbor was 3 years old — when their mother died. The family dispersed, the older ones moved away, married or went into the armed forces. His baby brother went to live with other family members out of state while Harbor stayed in Greenville with an aunt.

The musically-inclined youth took an "educational route in music," and attended Furman College which was outside Greenville. He and his youngest brother are the only two of the siblings to finish college.

Furman College wasn't exactly the college he would have chosen, Harbor said. Leaders of his church wanted him to go to Furman and help in the integration effort there. The school was in an upper class white neighborhood, Harbor recalled. He was one of six blacks on campus. When he left the school there were 15.

"The community was very much segregated," he said. A black person didn't associate with someone who was white. "I got through it," he said. Since integration the Greenville area has become a hub for various textile companies.

After leaving college, Harbor moved and lived in a number of cities — Alexandria, Virginia, Cincinnati, Ohio and Chicago, to name a few. Along the way he found work at Georgetown University and Catholic University. "I worked with wonderful people all over the country," he said, including the legendary Rev. Clarence Rivers, who is considered to be a pioneer in bringing African American culture to the Roman Catholic worship.

After experiencing and absorbing what he had learned in his travels Harbor was interested in studying liturgy and how the different elements of preaching, rituals, choirs and the like can enrich and expand the worship experience.

"We never leave church the way we entered it. We should be transformed," he said.

Harbor came to the Diocese of Oakland in the early 1980s to finish graduate school, picking up where he left off at Catholic University and the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. He went to the Franciscan School of Theology in Berkeley as a student and continued there as an employee. Eventually he joined the faculty as director of liturgy and music. In 2003 he also became an adjunct staff at the University of San Francisco.

In 1983 Harbor's long association with St. Columba Church began when then-pastor Rev. Paul Vassar invited the composer-musician to the parish, where the parish's African American Catholic community had been growing. After talking to the pastoral staff and ministry leaders, Harbor held a choir workshop and the music and programs grew.

Now, however, as he prepares for his departure from St. Columba, Harbor has begun cutting back on the number of activities he has been involved with. Currently he is enjoying his time as music director at the parish. "I'm just doing music today, it's a good thing," he said.

This new role gives Harbor more time to write music and to attend fewer meetings. "As pastoral associate work started on Sunday night and did not let up. There was always something to be done — weddings, Easter and more." He loved how it filled his world, but now he is ready for a change.

"I love what I do," he said. But now "I need time to recoup."

He is looking forward to reading, resting and playing the music that stirs his soul.

Because of his work with the Franciscan School of Theology, Harbor's departure from the East Bay depends on the upcoming move of the Franciscan School of Theology to southern California. "I hope to remain with them until the doors close," he said. "They might be ready (to move) in August or December 2013."

It is a sadness at leaving the diocese, Harbor said. It will be "poignant" for the many friendships he has made and the great amount of diversity in the community, and because he has lived in the Bay Area longer than anyplace else except for Washington, D.C.

As for the future, Harbor said that he is hoping for three months during which "I don't want do anything." There will be more time to spend time with family and old friends — and of course, music. He will continue to write and publish music and conduct his gospel music workshops.

"I want to be as useful to the world as I can," Harbor said.

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