From the choir loft at St. Joseph Church in Mechanicsburg, Randy Rhoades has shared his gift of music for several decades.
He has assisted with pre-school music activities and music for Vacation Bible School over the years. Currently, he is a member of the Sanctuary Choir and the director of the Contemporary Music Ensemble.
And now, he is sharing his musical gifts beyond the church sanctuary.
World Library Publications, a division of GIA Publications, Inc., has published two of Rhoades’ original compositions: “To the Infant Jesus” and “O God, I Come before You This Day.”
They are his first published pieces.
Written for a two-part children’s choir with keyboard and guitar accompaniment, “To the Infant Jesus” is a Christmas piece that tells of heavenly light and angels pointing the way to Jesus in the manger. It culminates with a prayer to seek the Infant Jesus every day.
Rhoades composed the piece in 2011 as a means of giving thanks to God for the birth of his granddaughter, Alicia Silva Monroy, who was born under duress.
“Frankly, we didn’t know if she was going to survive. She was the inspiration for the piece, which is dedicated to her,” Rhoades said.
The innocent and melodious tones of the children’s voices in the audio track evoke the peace and beauty of the Christmas season, and stir the emotions.
Perhaps this is why one of the world’s largest distributors of print music, J.W. Pepper, selected “To the Infant Jesus” for a rare treatment: a presentation on its website with a full description, sample pages and audio recording.
The piece was also featured in a showcase event during the virtual convention of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians earlier this month.
“The only thing that could make this more special is if someday my granddaughter got to sing it, and I got to hear her. It is a children’s piece, so that’s possible,” Rhoades said.
The second composition, “O God, I Come before you This Day,” is a choral anthem for four voices a capella. Rhoades said he wrote the piece as a reminder of the reason we come to worship.
The piece addresses forgiveness, mercy and grace.
“In our interpersonal relationships, we look for forgiveness when we’ve done something wrong, and isn’t it the same in our spiritual relationship?” Rhoades remarked. “Seeking forgiveness is an admission that we have sinned. Seeking mercy reminds us that there is punishment for sin, and we acknowledge that God, through his Divine Mercy, can mitigate the suffering we brought upon ourselves through our sinful actions. In seeking grace, we understand there is nothing in our power to earn or deserve the goodness of God. Grace is given freely.”
The anthem continues, “Empty my heart, make clear my mind, keep my lips silent.”
“The text serves as a guide in preparation for the worship experience,” Rhoades said. “Purge your mind from distractions, take your eyes off your cell phones, don’t talk to the person beside you. Let yourself open to the presence of the Lord.”
Rhoades said he was pleased to receive word in April of 2018 that the compositions were accepted. He signed the contract last year for their publication in 2020.
“In the case of these two pieces, I felt that they had a lot of offer – messages that could benefit more people,” he said.
“Music is a supporting part of the religious experience. Our faith requires we believe in things we can’t see, and I think music serves to support, encourage and guide us in that faith journey. As with our faith, we are impacted by music without ever seeing it or touching it,” he said.
He expressed gratitude to fellow composers as well as St. Joseph’s Pastoral Musician, Justin Myers, and the choir for their feedback on the compositions, as well as other pieces he’s written.
There is great joy in hearing compositions come to life with full voices, he said. Those featured in the audio samples on GIA Publications’ website are those of professional singers employed by the publisher.
“It’s wonderful,” he said of hearing the pieces come to life. “There is nothing to compare it to. Most of us do our writing at a computer, so there is an instrumental playback. But when you hear the texture of the voices of the text being sung, it really is a different experience.”
Rhoades has been actively involved in music since age five, playing instruments and singing in choirs since elementary school. He earned a degree in music education, worked as a full-time guitar instructor, and, since 1991, has been involved in the guitar program at the Milton Hershey School.
He finds joy in music ministry at St. Joseph Parish – most recently with a weekly virtual hymn-sing the parish streams Wednesday evenings on its Facebook page.
“Personally, music has strengthened my faith by the messages in the text and the soul-stirring emotions that it can evoke,” he said. “We sing our praises to God in this sanctuary, and I always find it to be such an uplifting and rejuvenating experience.”
(Randy Rhoades has also composed music to “Prayer to St. Michael.” Those interested in receiving the printed music can contact Rhoades at firstname.lastname@example.org to receive a copy free of charge and free for use.)
(Photo by Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness