In the realm of music, there are those who play, those who teach, and then there are those like Michael L. Bower, who do it all with an unwavering passion and dedication. As the Director of Music at St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre, New York, Michael has spent a lifetime immersed in the world of music. Today, we’re privileged to delve into his musical journey and the remarkable contributions he has made to the world of sacred music, choral performance, and organ playing.
An Early Start: A Journey of Music’s Genesis
Q: Michael, let’s start at the beginning. Could you share with us how your journey in music began?
Michael L. Bower (MLB): Certainly, Vladimir. My musical journey began right in my home church. I was already involved in school services there by the age of 12. It was during these early years that I discovered my deep connection to music and the church. At 13, I started teaching myself to play the organ, and by the time I was 15, I held my first position as a church organist at Zion Lutheran Church in Floyd. Those early experiences set the stage for the lifelong musical journey that followed.
Education and Influences: A Harmonious Blend
Q: Your educational background is quite impressive. Can you tell us more about your academic pursuits and the mentors who influenced your musical development?
MLB: Certainly. I received my Bachelor’s Degree Magna Cum Laude in Sacred Music and Organ Performance from Westminster Choir College in Princeton. During my time there, I had the privilege of studying under remarkable mentors such as Donald McDonald (organ), Mark Brombaugh (harpsichord), and Joseph Flummerfelt (conducting). I was also fortunate to receive the William and Mary Renneckar merit scholarship three times during my undergraduate years.
I didn’t stop there. I continued my organ studies with Marilyn Keiser at Indiana University and received boys choir training from James Litton, the Director of the American Boys Choir, Princeton, and Gerre Hancock from St. Thomas Church, Fifth Avenue, New York. Additionally, I was a member of Donald Allured’s Concert Handbell Choir, which provided valuable ensemble experience.
Nurturing the Musical Roots: St. Agnes Cathedral
Q: Your journey led you to St. Agnes Cathedral. Could you share the story behind your appointment and the role you played in developing the music program there?
MLB: In 1985, I was appointed as the Associate Director of Music for St. Agnes Cathedral. It was a pivotal moment in my career. I had the privilege of assisting Christoph Tietze in developing a professional music program, which included multiple choirs. During my time there, I founded the Cathedral Girls Choir and trained the probationer group of the Boys Choir. These early efforts laid the foundation for what we have today.
International Influences and Further Studies
Q: Your musical education took you across the globe. Could you tell us about your experiences studying abroad and their impact on your career?
MLB: Studying abroad was a transformative experience for me. In 1987, I pursued specialized studies in organ and boys choir training with Stephen Cleobury at King’s College, Cambridge, and conducting with John Rutter at Clare College, Cambridge, England. These experiences broadened my horizons and deepened my understanding of the choral tradition.
Masters in Music: Manhattan School of Music
Q: You also earned a Master’s Degree in Organ Performance. Can you share more about your time at Manhattan School of Music and your notable achievements there?
MLB: Absolutely. I earned my Master’s Degree with Honors in Organ Performance from Manhattan School of Music in 1992. During my time there, I studied under John Walker (organ), Kenneth Cooper (Baroque continuo), and Amy Keiser (conducting). I was honored to receive the John Cerovalo award for my outstanding performance of Johann Sebastian Bach’s music at graduation.
A Global Music Ambassador
Q: Your music has taken you to various corners of the world. Can you tell us about your international performances and experiences?
MLB: I’ve been fortunate to perform organ recitals in numerous locations across the East Coast, the Mid-West, Germany, Austria, Italy, France, and England. I’ve had the privilege of performing at iconic venues such as St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City and collaborating with esteemed groups like the Long Island Choral Society in Garden City, New York.
One memorable moment in my career was when I performed Ned Rorem’s “Quaker Reader” as part of a festival celebrating the composer’s 75th birthday in 1998 at Columbia University.
Recording and Musical Legacy
Q: Your recorded work is also worth noting. Could you share more about your recordings and contributions to the music world?
MLB: I’m featured on the Christmas CD of the Cathedral Choir of Men and Boys, released in December 2002, where I played five solo organ selections. I’ve also been involved as a regional workshop clinician in choral vocal production, boys choirs, and organ performance.
Mastering the Cathedral: Director of Music at St. Agnes
Q: Your role at St. Agnes Cathedral is extensive. Can you give us an overview of your responsibilities and the various choirs and ensembles you direct?
MLB: At St. Agnes Cathedral, my responsibilities are diverse. I direct the 75-voice Choir of Men and Boys, the 80-voice Cathedral Chorale (Adult), the Schola Cantorum (a 16-voice a capella ensemble), and the Cathedral Singers (an octet ensemble of the Cathedral’s professional singers). Recently, I’ve also founded the Diocesan Boys Choir of Rockville Centre.
I’ve had the privilege of preparing and conducting the Cathedral Choirs and Orchestra in performances of many choral masterworks, including Handel’s “Messiah,” Beethoven’s “Mass in C,” Haydn’s “Harmoniemesse,” and Mozart’s “Requiem.” We’ve toured to some remarkable venues, including Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center, St. Thomas Church, Fifth Avenue, New York City, The White House, and the Cathedral Basilica of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. In 1998, I prepared the Cathedral Chorale for a performance at Carnegie Hall conducted by John Rutter. In 2000, we performed Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony for a Millennium performance.
I’ve also held positions of leadership within the American Guild of Organists, the International Conference of Roman Catholic Cathedral Musicians, and the Diocesan Liturgy Commission of Rockville Centre.
Beyond the Cathedral: Diverse Projects
Q: Your contributions extend beyond the Cathedral. Can you share some of your other notable projects and performances?
MLB: Certainly, Vladimir. I’ve had the privilege of recording at the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College for Pipedreams Radio Broadcast in October 2004, playing Widor’s Opus 42 Symphony in G minor with the South Shore Symphony of Rockville Centre, and performing on the famed Cavaillé Coll organ at the Cathedral of Notre Dame, Paris, in July of 2005. In 2007, I performed a solo organ recital at Westminster Abbey, London. In January of 2008, I hosted the Conference of Cathedral Music Directors of the United States and Canada at St. Agnes Cathedral and presented a number of choirs and soloists in concert. That February, I performed Samuel Barber’s organ concerto “Toccata Festiva” with the South Shore Symphony and Schola Cantorum.
In June/July of the same year, I took The Choir of Men and Boys on a singing tour to Washington, D.C., and in August, I taught a choral conducting seminar at Mount St. Mary’s College in Los Angeles. In 2010, I founded a new Diocesan Boys Choir of 45 select young singers and performed organ concerto works at St. Peter’s Church, Citicorp Center in 2011. The Fall of 2011 saw me preparing and conducting the Cathedral Choirs in a performance of John Rutter’s Requiem, and recording a new Christmas CD with the Choir of Men and Boys and Diocesan Boys Choir. In 2012, I took 100 singers from the Cathedral Choirs and Diocesan Boys Choir on a 10-Day Tour of Italy (July of 2012).
A Decade of Musical Excellence
Q: Your career has been marked by significant achievements. Can you tell us about your projects and performances in the recent decade?
MLB: Of course, Vladimir. In 2013-2014, I had the privilege of taking a select ensemble of 60 singers from my choirs to perform in the Hallmark Christmas Concert at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Fifth Avenue, New York City, and presenting the Brahms Requiem and Mozart Mass.
The 2014-2015 Season was truly remarkable with the Christmas Spectacular Concert at St. Agnes and the Choirs Concert Tour to Ireland and England in July 2015.
I opened the Concert Year of 2015-2016 for St. Agnes with a solo organ recital, recorded on a new compact CD, produced and directed Handel’s “Messiah,” presented the Westminster Choir at the Madison Theatre of Molloy College, and took a select group of my Cathedral, Diocesan, and Master Chorale singers to perform in Carnegie Hall.
Continuing the Musical Odyssey
Q: Your journey didn’t stop there. Could you tell us about your work and performances in the subsequent years?
MLB: Certainly. In the 2016-2017 Season, I directed the 9/11 Memorial Concert of Rutter’s “Requiem” and other masterworks, prepared the choral parts for Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, and performed Handel’s “Opus 4, No. 4 Organ Concerto.”
The 2017-2018 Season brought exciting opportunities, including SeptemberFEST, Guest Conducting the Sistina Cappella, the Christmas Concert Spectacular, performing the Poulenc Organ Concerto, and taking the Choirs on a Concert Tour to Germany, Austria, and Prague, where we performed Mozart’s “Requiem” in the Stephensdom, Vienna!
In the 2018-2019 Season, I had the honor of conducting hundreds of elementary and high school student singers in two choral festivals in New York City for the International Choir Organization: Pueri Cantores.
The 2019-2020 Season included an Organ Concert at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, playing in the Dr. John Walker Master-Class, and conducting the Christmas Concert in St. Agnes Cathedral.
A Year of Challenges and Triumphs
Q: The past couple of years have been unique and challenging for the entire world. How did you adapt to these changing times, and what were your notable activities during this period?
MLB: The years 2021-2022 brought both challenges and triumphs. Despite the global challenges, I continued to share music with audiences near and far. I played organ concerts in St. Mary’s Cathedral, San Francisco, and St. Rose of Lima, Massapequa. I presented Faure’s “Requiem” on All Souls Day and took 80 singers from the Cathedral Choirs to sing the Christmas Concert at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. In March, I conducted a Choir Festival in Houston, Texas, and performed Saint Saens’s “Symphony No. 3.”
One of the highlights was producing the Diocesan Choir Festival in St. Agnes on June 26. During this period, I also had the privilege of visiting the Ambassador of the United States to the Holy See, Italy, and performing on the organ in St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City. In August, I took 400 singers and family members to Citi Field to perform the National Anthem.
A Thriving Future: 2022-2023 and Beyond
Q: What can we look forward to in the coming years from Michael L. Bower and the music program at St. Agnes Cathedral?
MLB: The year 2022-2023 has been exciting so far. We presented the Cathedral Choirs, Orchestra, and Soloists in a December production of Handel’s “Messiah” and prepared the Choirs for a production of Mahler’s “Symphony No. 2.” I also had the opportunity to perform an organ concert on the famous German pipe organ in St. Paul’s Cathedral, Pittsburgh.
As for the future, there are numerous special music events lined up at St. Agnes Cathedral in the 2023-2024 Season. These include an Organ Concert, a Solemn Mass of All Souls Day featuring Cristobol de Morales’ “Missa pro Defunctis a 5” performed by the Cathedral Singers, a St. Cecilia Concert and Investiture by St. Agnes Junior & Senior Girls Choirs, Advent Sunday Evening Solemn Sung Vespers, an Advent/Christmas Concert by The Cathedral Choirs, Triduum commemorating St. Agnes, and more.
A Musical Legacy Continues
In a world where music transcends boundaries and touches the deepest recesses of our souls, individuals like Michael L. Bower play an invaluable role. His dedication to the world of sacred music, choral excellence, and organ performance has not only enriched the lives of countless individuals but has also served as an inspiration for the next generation of musicians.
As the Director of Music at St. Agnes Cathedral, Michael has not only created harmonious melodies but also a legacy that will continue to resonate in the hearts and minds of those who experience his music. We look forward to the continued musical journey of Michael L. Bower and the beautiful melodies yet to be composed and performed under his guidance.
For more information about upcoming music events at St. Agnes Cathedral, please visit their website at www.stagnescathedral.org.
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