A New Musical Era at the Cathedral: Christian Clough begins as Canon for Liturgy and Music

On Monday of this week Christian Clough began as the cathedral’s new Canon for Liturgy and Music. We hope as many of you as can will be at the 10 am service this coming Sunday, September 4th, for Christian’s first Sunday with us and will stay for a festive coffee hour the choir is hosting. Let’s give Christian a warm welcome!

Much thanks Harold Stover and Ray Cornils for serving as our interim musicians, to Seuzan Moore and others on the transition team, and to the Cathedral Musician search committee: the Rev. David Illingworth (chair), Randy Mullin, Curtis Maurand, Heather Murdoch Curry, Connie Bingham, John Bancroft, the Rev. Suzanne Roberts, Kenna Ferguson, David Savage, Orion Williams, and Anna Christie. 

Christian is originally from upstate New York, went to college at the University of Rochester and holds both a Master of Music and a Master of Arts in Religion from Yale University. He comes to St. Luke’s from his most recent appointment as the Director of Music at St. Paul and the Redeemer Episcopal Church, Hyde Park in Chicago. Before that he served at the Church of the Epiphany in Washington, D.C., All Saints by the Sea in Santa Barbara, and St. Thomas’s Church in New Haven. As well leading numerous choirs, creating many recordings and doing a multitude of performances, he has experience as a K-8 music teacher, has led a middle school drama program, has anti-racism training, is skilled with technology, and has occasionally preached on Sunday mornings. Because Christian’s husband grew up in Maine and both of them have family here, he has long dreamed of coming to Portland and St. Luke’s and is absolutely thrilled to be coming to join us here.

Listen to how Christian describes this in words from his cover letter to the St. Luke’s search team: 

“The most fulfilling parts of my ministry are cultivating curiosity; building community; and encouraging vibrant music-making from a broad cross-section of parishioners and community members, both singers and instrumentalists. My ten years leading the music at St. Paul & the Redeemer in Hyde Park in Chicago, preceded by several years in a another similarly creative congregation in downtown Washington, DC, have nurtured my skills in weaving many musical threads together into rich and appealing tapestries of liturgical experience. I am sure that I would be able to apply that experience with success at St. Luke’s in choosing fitting music for your choirs and congregation; encouraging volunteers to share their musical talents; playing the organ (or piano) in worship; nurturing a gregarious, caring and fun-loving choir community; and leading them in giving their best to the music they sing. During my decade as Director of Music at St. Paul & the Redeemer (SPR) in Chicago’s Hyde Park/Kenwood neighborhood, I have worked cooperatively with an energetic staff and a diverse and progressive congregation to maintain, broaden, and strengthen a lively tradition of singing. We actively encourage children and adults to raise their voices and share instrumental talents. We have increased the diversity of our musical expression. And we still celebrate the particular riches of Anglican musical traditions. I view church music as an essential way to inspire worshipers to love God and neighbor more deeply, to break down barriers and welcome all into that love.

 I am passionate about instilling in others an appreciation for our particular traditions in the Episcopal Church, yet equally to offering diverse and creative music, liturgy, and formation opportunities to engage both Church and world in new and inspiring ways; not just in Sunday worship, but in fellowship, performance, and education programs, too. The Cathedral’s mission to engage and welcome the city and the diocese inspires me, and I would be excited to join your work in building an ever more vibrant community in an embodiment of Jesus’ love. I was raised an Episcopalian in two Central New York Episcopal churches: one, large, with a historic men-and-boys choir filling the gothic arches of a landmark Richard Upjohn edifice; the other, a small, college-town congregation populated with wonderful, thoughtful and thinking members. It was in that latter parish’s choir that I began learning the Church’s repertoire. We were transitioning from monthly to weekly communion; I still remember with fondness Sung Morning Prayer. I was weaned, musically, on The Hymnal 1940, and liturgically on “services for trial use”. The advent of The Hymnal 1982 was exciting for a high school student who had just started organ lessons, and I promptly bought my own Accompaniment Edition. When I entered the Yale Institute of Sacred Music, I envisioned a career as a purely classical musician, curating the traditional repertoire of the Church. At St. Thomas’s, New Haven (not my first church job, but definitely my most formative early work); in churches I had served previously; and in my first full-time position, at All Saints-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church (ASBTS) in Santa Barbara, CA (a traditionalist congregation of 1500 people), I polished works by Herbert Howells, Palestrina, Mozart, Bach, and other greats in the Western European tradition. The traditionalist streak of ASBTS tweaked my own musical conservatism, and my rigidities loosened in reply. 

My theology started becoming more inclusive, and pointed me toward my next challenge: making music at the Church of the Epiphany in downtown Washington, DC, with its two distinct Sunday liturgies. The 8 AM Welcome Table Eucharist was tailored to a congregation composed largely of homeless people, most African American, and most steeped in music of the Black Church, rather than Anglican hymnody. Some members banded together to form a gospel choir; they were gracious, patient, and helpful in teaching me about Black gospel music. At the 11 AM Eucharist, I led an avid and adventurous choir of volunteers and professionals with whom I gave the North American premiere (and first-ever liturgical performance) of Jonathan Dove’s Koethener Messe, and sang notable works from the standard repertoire; several are listed in my CurriculumVitae. Another significant part of my work at Epiphany was welcoming the people of Washington year round to our free Tuesday Concert Series, featuring some of the most talented musicians in the Capital Region, which I administered, promoted, and hosted. In the fall of 2011, SPR advertised for a new music director. I had been watching this church since 2003, when a friend first called my attention to it. I hadn’t applied the two previous times the position was open, but at this moment, I was ready and able. It was an immediate love affair for me; everyone I met during the audition visit was delightful, the Rector was collegial and enthusiastic (and funny), and I was thrilled to accept their offer. Picking up where the people of Epiphany left off, SPR members have taught me how to craft authentic musical experiences in a variety of styles that weren’t intuitive for me.

 African American members have been generous with wisdom and graceful with patience as I have embraced jazz, gospel, and spirituals, all of which are expected and beloved here. I have conducted our ambitious choirs in spirited and polished renditions of choral masterpieces such as Arvo Pärt’s exquisite Berliner Messe and Will Todd’s fantastic, jazzy Mass in Blue. In every pre-pandemic year, I led our combined adult choirs and the SPR Choristers (our children’s choir) in three such ambitious liturgical offerings, plus regular splash-outs for Holy Week, Easter, and Christmas. We continue to sing English and Continental treasures on a regular basis, yet we are celebrating the boundless diversity of Christ’s Church by employing a wide variety of music, much of it American, done as well and as authentically as possible. Working at SPR has been the greatest joy of my professional life, and a top-flight school for musical, managerial, personal, spiritual, and interpersonal growth. In partnership with beloved colleagues and parishioners, I have made great music; formed deep relationships; learned valuable truths; and become a better minister, teacher, musician, Christian, and person. I encourage parishioners to share their musical talents. I teach frequently and preach occasionally. I lead a vibrant, fun, rigorous music program for children, rooted in the RSCM tradition, yet also employing some teaching materials of my own invention.

Our extended and ongoing wrestling match with COVID and its impacts on our ministries has lately been another valuable teacher. I have learned more than I could have asked for! From the challenges, obstacles, and opportunities of these 2 years, I have gleaned ever more nimbleness, creativity, technology skills, patience, responsiveness, grace, and (hyper!-) flexibility. Challenges and rewards continually pour forth in this highly desirable environment. I still stretch my musical boundaries here —not least in leading our music program completely online for more than a year during the pandemic! I am still growing as an organist, conductor, teacher, and pastor. I love playing our exceptional pipe organ, and your historic instrument is similarly enticing. Worshipping at SPR deepens my faith and strengthens my resolve to do good in the world. We are truly a community seeking “to embody the radical hospitality practiced by Jesus”, and I practice infusing my life and ministry with an openness to all God’s children. Our work against racism; and in support of refugees, the hungry in our neighborhood, and our partners in Haiti; along with treating those of all ages and circumstances with respect and dignity makes this congregation healthy, vibrant, caring, thriving, and challenging, and I grow and am blessed here. 

I think Portland, and the Diocese of Maine, would be exciting environments in which to apply what I’ve been learning in my decade in Chicago. SPR has long been known as a source of innovation and inspiration for the broader Church. To ponder leaving this beloved congregation and this wonderful work has been tough discernment, but I also feel ready to share with others what I have learned at SPR, and to learn new things from your own explorations. I am increasingly interested in sharing with others the vibrant worship and nourishing parish life I enjoy and contribute to. I believe that St. Luke’s and the Diocese of Maine would provide wonderful places in which to share my knowledge and inspiration in service of a vibrant, caring, 21st-century Church. The richness and diversity of Christ’s Church is a banquet to be explored, savored, and celebrated by all. I hope that I may be privileged to be part of your exploration, growth, prayer, praise and service in the years ahead, providing spiritual food for a world that very much needs divine beauty and inspiration. With all best wishes for a blessed and successful search, I am very truly yours, 

Christian Clough”