By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T
PHILADELPHIA – John Romeri has just come to Philadelphia from Missouri to take up the newly created post of archdiocesan director of liturgical music. He brings with him an impressive record of accomplishments.
During his 18-year tenure as director of sacred music for the Archdiocese of St. Louis and organist for the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, he was the founding father of several respected choirs as well as a Cathedral concert series, which this season alone will feature performances by such distinguished groups as the Vienna Boys Choir, the Philharmonic Orchestra of Poland, the Choir of St. John’s College, Cambridge, England, as well as local orchestras and groups and his own choirs.
Romeri is not a St. Louis native; he’s originally from Madera, Calif., where “a neighbor started me in piano lessons when I was about 8,” he said. He soon progressed into organ lessons and by grade seven he was a backup organist, especially for school services, at St. Joachim Church. He attended music camp at the University of the Pacific’s Conservatory of Music in Stockton, where he would later earn a bachelor’s degree in organ performance, magna cum laude.
His chief interest was in music direction rather than solo performance, so he continued his musical education at Westminster Choir College in Princeton, N.J., where he received a master’s degree in sacred music. It was at Westminster where he met his wife, Karen, and they now have two grown children, Angela and John, both of whom share their parents’ musical talents.
The first 17 years of his professional career were spent in Pittsburgh, where he was the organist at Assumption Church, and for the final seven years music director at the Cathedral of St. Paul. On the side, he also taught at the University of Pittsburgh and Carlow College.
It was in St. Louis where his contribution was the greatest. There was already a cathedral choir, which exists independently and as the nucleus for a larger, almost 140-member archdiocesan choir. An archdiocesan children’s choir was formed with 70 or so boys and girls, as was a five-octave hand bell choir under the direction of Karen Romeri.
For all of these, comprehensive training was required, and Romeri assembled a faculty of music teachers for the task. The children’s choir and, especially, the adult choir have toured extensively over the years; all over the United States and such international points as Rome, Vienna and Salzburg, Austria, and Canterbury, England.
It is small wonder that Romeri’s professional recognition includes being named “Pastoral Musician of the Year” in 2003 by the National Association of Pastoral Musicians (NPM), and an honorary doctorate in 1998 from Lindenwood University in St. Louis. He also serves on the liturgy committee of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington and is a past chair of the NPM.
By coincidence, he served under two future Archbishops of Philadelphia – during his early years in Pittsburgh Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua was the bishop and during his early tenure in St. Louis, Cardinal Justin Rigali was archbishop.
Now in Philadelphia his debut will be the Sept. 14 liturgy at the Cathedral in honor of Cardinal Rigali’s 25th anniversary as a bishop.
“I’m extremely excited to be working with Cardinal Rigali again,” said Romeri, who noted the Cardinal’s keen interest in the liturgy and liturgical music.
He’s coming to Philadelphia at a point in time when all liturgy, including music, will be re-examined as the revision to the English translation of the Roman Missal prepares to take effect.
“It’s a chance to reevaluate what we are doing, rethink the music,” he said.
It’s not just English translations, either. In the Romeri era expect to hear a greater emphasis on the ancient Latin and chant as well.