Friars’ ‘Icons Singing’ Project to Be Presented June 16 in Hartford

Jocelyn Thomas Friar News

HARTFORD, Conn. — Art and music are coming together this spring at an event focused on the saints. Featuring work by three HNP friars, the project – called “Icons Singing” – will combine original choir music composed by Kevin McGoff, OFM, and artwork created by Robert Lentz, OFM, and Michael Reyes, OFM. “Icons Singing” will be presented June 16 at St. Patrick-St. Anthony Church in downtown Hartford. The event, sponsored by Holy Name Province, is free and open to the public.

The concert, scheduled for 6:30 p.m., will be accompanied by an exhibition of Robert and Michael’s iconography at the church at 285 Church Street. Pax Chorum, a professional choir conducted by Kevin, will sing works composed on the words, prayers, and writings of Sts. Alphonus Liuori, Anthony of Padua, Francis and Clare of Assisi, John Paul II, Theresa of Calcutta, and Katherine Drexel, among others.

“Icons Singing” will include 15 pieces – 13 original compositions, one liturgical chant (Litany of Saints) and one hymn setting (“For All the Saints”).

“Both visual and musical art forms speak directly to our heart and soul,” said Robert. “They do so in ways that support and enhance one another. The seeing and hearing become one experience that is richer because they are combined. Perhaps it is like two climbing vines that wrap around and strengthen each other as they ascend.”

Project’s Evolution
An interest in the saints combined with an appreciation for Robert and Michael’s art led Kevin to develop the project. His main goal is that the project “be a gift to the friars of the Province and a celebration of the artistic work of our friars,” said the musician, who lives at St. Anthony Shrine in Boston.

Kevin, who professed his first vows as a Franciscan in 1990, developed the idea for the project several years ago while composing music for choirs on the words of the saints while working at parishes in San Diego. The idea of combining the prayers and writings of the saints with the images created by Robert and Michael in their icons came later, he said.

“When I became aware of the icons, I thought it was a natural fit to celebrate the artistic work of several friars together in the way I have devised in this project,” said Kevin. “More than half of the anthems and motets were composed since 2017; four of them were written during my sabbatical and one was finished during the sabbatical. The others were earlier. All of the scores required extensive editing during the sabbatical period.”

To disseminate information about the saints, the pillars of the Christian life, through the medium of the visual and musical arts seemed to Kevin “a worthy endeavor, he said.

“Art in its varied forms has the capacity to uphold, elevate, mirror, enrich, challenge, and illuminate the thinking, attitudes, and assumptions of those who experience it.,” he said.  “The words of the saints, married to the choral art and the images of the saints depicting the core values of their blessed lives, are instructive and constitute a kind of ‘popular preaching.’ I hope that those who experience it are drawn nearer to the center of the faith that they profess or might someday do.  The impact of such an experience are not up to me or any artist – they are, like all things the working of the Holy Spirit and the grace of God in collaboration with his most exquisite creation.”

Kevin McGoff, Michael Reyes and Robert Lentz are combing their artistic talents for the event.

Creative Backgrounds
Kevin – a performer and music educator – holds music degrees from The Catholic University of America and the Hartt School, University of Hartford.

In addition to teaching and providing musical leadership, Kevin has been an active pastoral musician, serving at churches in Hartford and Providence, as well as in California.

He led the Church Street Singers – a non-profit choral music education and performance program for middle and high school girls in the Hartford area – from 1998 to 2005, and from 2005 to 2006, he served as director of choral activities at the University of Connecticut. He began composing for choirs in 2008 and his compositions have been sung by church choirs in the Hartford and San Diego area. His piece “This is the Wood of the Cross” has been published by GIA Publications, Chicago. Kevin has also led the liturgical music for Provincial events such as chapters, professions and ordinations.

The two friar artists, with their mutual devotion to portraying the saints, have varied backgrounds.

Robert has been painting for nearly 50 years and has produced nearly 300 icons for chapels, monasteries and individuals around the world. In addition to painting, Robert writes, teaches apprentices, and conducts workshops on art and spirituality. He studied Byzantine iconography by apprenticing with a master painter in a Greek Orthodox monastery.

In addition, Robert has painted altar screens for two large Catholic churches. “An icon can take between two weeks and two or three months to paint,” he said. “The largest I ever painted was 10 feet by 8 feet and took me a year and a half. Those for altar screens were life-size. The individual icons have ranged from 4 feet to 15 inches.”

Robert, who lives at St. Anthony Friary in Butler, N.J., said it is important to share information about the saints in creative ways.

“Too much of modern Catholicism is intellectually based and very wordy,” said Robert. “Nikos Kazantzakis, the author of ‘Zorba the Greek’ once compared the mind, when it acts on its own, to a skilled lawyer who can argue any case and win, regardless of the truth. Since the time of the Desert Fathers, Christian mystics have known that the only way we human beings can encounter God is by bringing our mind down into our heart in silent humility. Only in this way we can stop the ceaseless chattering of our lawyer-minds so that God has a chance to break through our noise and speak. All beauty helps stop the chattering. All beauty has the potential to slow us down so that we can gaze and listen. In this sense, Christian artists are powerful evangelizers, especially in our modern world where we are drowning in wordy noise. An artist’s voice can be much more eloquent than that of a preacher whose means of communication is the wordiness we no longer bother to hear.”

Michael, a native of the Philippines who moved to the U.S. as a teenager, studied under Robert while living at Holy Name College in Silver Spring, Md., after meeting him in 2010 while Michael was attending the Franciscan Institute at St. Bonaventure University as a novice.

Michael was inspired by Robert’s work and spirituality. “Robert encouraged me to pursue art and to use the artistic gifts that God has given me,” said Michael, who professed his first vows in 2010 and final vows in 2014.

“My hope is that the attendees of ‘Icons Singing’ will have an enriched experience not only seeing the visual beauty of the icons, but also hearing Kevin’s exquisite composition. It will not only be a visual experience but also an auditory experience as well,” said Michael, who is stationed at Sacred Heart Parish in Tampa, Fla.

Several staff members at the parish, where Thomas Gallagher, OFM, is pastor, are involved with the June 16 event. They are Patricia Curtis, curator of the Clare Gallery, and Pamela Johnson, a musician and convener of the choir.

Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.

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