By William T. Clew
Johathan F. Babbitt, the newly named director of music, organist/choirmaster at St. Paul Cathedral, has been involved with liturgical music for about 40 years.
He said he started as a boy soprano in the Episcopal church in Litchfield Conn., his hometown. He began piano lessons in the first grade, he said, and started lessons on the organ in the sixth grade.
At Litchfield High School he won the Arion Award and was selected for the Connecticut All State Band, playing the French horn.
He was accepted as a student at Yale University, where his father, grandfather and great grandfathers had preceded him. He majored in music and earned bachelor and master of arts degrees there in choral and orchestral conducting. He also was associate conductor of the glee club.
After graduation he moved on to Hanover, N.H., and was organist and choirmaster at the Church of Christ at Dartmouth.
He then was named head of the music department at St. George’s School, Newport, R.I. He said he was at St. George’s for eight years. He and his wife Lisa, a soprano and pianist, still live there. They have two sons, Thomas, a Sergeant First Class, and Nicholas, a Private, both in the U.S. Army, and a daughter, Katey who lives in Houston with her husband and their son, Christopher.
During that time he also was named director of the Litchfield County Choral Union in Norfolk, Conn., and a couple of years later, director of the Swanhurst Chorus in Newport. He holds both positions today, he said.
In Newport he taught private lessons in piano, voice, French horn, etc. In a complete departure from music, he also became a railroad conductor on the Newport Dinner Train, a tourist train in Newport. He said he worked one day a week at first. But that led to two days a week, then three. Eventually, he said, he was executive chef for the train.
And that led to another railroad job. He went to work for the East Brookfield and Spencer Railroad, where he is assistant terminal manager. The Railroad is a contractor for CSX Transportation, he said.
He said he also continued his career in church music until about two years ago. Then, he found himself in a bad situation. He left, vowing never to serve the church again.
For a while, he said, he and his wife enjoyed just going to Mass without getting involved. Then one day the organist told him about a little church in Swansea that needed a fill-in organist on the next Sunday.
He agreed to help, and played organ for three Masses that weekend. The pastor approached him and asked if he could continue as organist. He said he agreed to fill in for three or four weeks.
A week later, when he want back to the church, he got a big surprise. There, in the parish newsletter, was his picture and biography and announcement that he was the new music director.
That was not what he had agreed to. But, he said, he prayed on it.
“I decided this was the Lord’s boot in my butt saying go do this,” he said.
Four months later, he said, he received a call from Raymond L. Delisle, Worcester diocesan chancellor, asking him to come to Worcester to talk about the position at St. Paul’s.
“I decided that was the next application of the Lord’s boot,” he said.
He accepted the job and began Sept. 13. He said the cathedral has had two choirs. He wants one choir, the cathedral’s Schola Cantorum, to present the artistic and musical heritage of the Church.
It should be “at the center of what we do. The Schola is the beating heart of the liturgical musical programs,” he said.
His principle job is to provide music for the congregation he said. It also is to care for and nurture the Schola Cantorum and recognize its contributions.
He has renewed a series of concerts, recitals and liturgies at the cathedral. The first program in the series was held last night, Solemn Choral Vespers for the feast day of St. John Paul II.
At 7 p.m., Nov. 2, Mr. Babbett and the Schola will present Gabriel Faure’s Requiem. At 8 p.m., Nov. 21, David Emlow, internationally acclaimed organist, will play. At 7 p.m., Nov. 29, there will be a Festival of Lessons and Carols for Advent, and, at 7 p.m., Dec. 27, a Festival of Lessons and Carols for Christmas.