An Easter Bearers of the Word: Classical Guitarist Kevin McCormick

A blessed Easter to all CatholicVote readers.  For the glorious conclusion of this liturgical year’s Triduum, we have a very special “Bearers of the Word,” an interview with a truly excellent musician and person.

Indeed, Kevin McCormick (b. 1967) is probably the best classical guitarist you’ve never encountered.  But, you most certainly should.

His music is traditional, original, delicate, and spirited all at once.  Heavily influenced by Brazilian, Italian, and Spanish styles, Kevin mostly plays the works of the great composers of the last two centuries.  He is also, however, an award-winning composer, and he recently played one of his most interesting compositions, “Soleares” with the Kerrville’s famous “Symphony of the Hills.”

A lifelong, devout Roman Catholic, Kevin and his family worship at St. Michael’s parish in Kerrville and at Our Lady of Atonement in San Antonio.  He and his wonderful wife, Lisa, have also for years taught courses on the Theology of the Body and the Catholic perspective on birth control and family issues.  They are also intimately involved in pro-life causes in Texas.

Kevin also writes, and he writes well.  You can find his essays on various blogs and in The Saint Austin Review and soon in Catholic World Report.  In 1990, Kevin won a national award as the best college poet with a poem he wrote regarding the person and music of Estonian Arvo Part.

He continues to write poetry, but he spends most of his professional time with classical music and his free time with his family and the Church.

One can purchase or download Kevin’s music at a number of places on the web.  Amazon carries all of his music as does CDBaby.  ”Solo” (2004), “Americas” (2007), and “Songs of the Martin” (2009) are Kevin’s classical guitar CDs.  ”With the Coming of Evening” (1993) and “Squall” (1999) are post-progressive/post-rock vocal CDs in the vein of Talk Talk, Kate Bush,  XTC, and Pink Floyd.

His official website is here.

***

BB: Kevin, I’m very honored to have you with us on Catholic Vote.  Thank you so much for allowing us to take up your good time with an interview.  Let’s start with who you are.  Frankly, every lover of Catholicism and classical music should know you.

KCMcC: Thanks, Bradley.  I’m German-Irish American, born and raised in the Southwest and Midwest. I am a musician, composer, and teacher and (and sometime common sense armchair philosopher).   My wife and I met while studying abroad in Rome and earned our undergraduate degrees at Notre Dame.  We have three wonderful daughters and live in the Texas Hill Country.  We teach marriage preparation for the Archdiocese of San Antonio and Natural Family planning with the Couple to Couple League.

BB: How did you come to your Catholicism?

KCMcC: I am a cradle Catholic.  My family had an active faith-life with respect to the sacraments and my parents were often involved with the parish liturgical music in some way or another.  I was baptized as an infant at the Cathedral of St. Paul in Minnesota and when I visited the church years later I mused that somehow the grandiosity of the place must have had an affect on me when I was but a month old that has lasted to this day.  The universal meaning of the “catholic” Church has been a strength for me and I’ve been blessed to celebrate the sacrificial and communal holy mass with fellow Catholics in churches from Beijing to Moscow to Rome and parishes throughout the United States.

Like many of my generation, my faith had some troughs in my young adult years.  But it was more a weakness of spirit than a loss of faith.  Hearing the scriptures each week provided an anchor.  And as I learned them, the moral teachings of the Church resonated with the realities which I confronted at each point of growth in my life.  In hindsight, my missteps were always related to something self-centered rather that God and brethren-centered.  And yet faith buoyed me through it all.

As I got older I realized the wealth and depth of the Church’s beauty through the writings of the saints and the faithful.  In particular, Augustine and Chesterton have been great beacons for wading through our difficult age.

BB:  Who do you think are the most important Catholics today?

KCMcM: I think all Catholics are significant, honestly—even those who don’t practice their faith or worse, those who work against the Church from within it.  One can easily see the great sadness caused by sin in the world and which has deeply affected the faithful, the unfaithful and the FICO (faithful in claim only).  There is a reason why so many who dislike the Church’s teachings adamantly refuse to go elsewhere and still cling to the name “Catholic.”  It is a testament to the trueness of the Church.  It has often been noted that if all of the people who profess to be “Catholic” were at least attempting to follow Her teachings, the Church’s leavening impact on our world would be incalculable.  The lack of faithfulness is significant.

Yet I see two very important strengths in our current congregations.  The joined forces of the energized John Paul II generation with those converts crossing the Tiber are righting the ship.  In dioceses and parishes, through blogs and organizations, the transformation of the Church, the renewal of the faith, and the energy of the new evangelization are all a part of the great conversion of our world and convergence of the power of the Holy Spirit.

The strength of the newly ordained and the newly converted are invigorating the Church with the truth and beauty which are the pillars of the faith.  A great example of this is Fr. Christopher Phillips, pastor of the first ever Anglican-use Catholic parish, Our Lady of the Atonement in San Antonio.  Fr. Phillips proclaims the faith fearlessly but with love and compassion.  He is a bridge to our separated brethren and a great example of one who is following Christ wherever He leads—even if it meant at one point bringing his whole congregation across the great divide that once separated his parish from the unity with the Church.  It is truly remarkable that he began that journey 30 years ago “without a map” and that it has now culminated in the forming of Anglican ordinariates throughout the world.  And this faithfulness has had a leavening affect on the other churches and diocese in the Latin rite.

Elsewhere, those who struggle in the spiritually vacuous Western nations under the ever-rigid thumb of secularism and those who suffer under the forces against religious freedom around the world are in need of leadership and most importantly prayer.  But these martyrs are witnesses to the truth and their pain and blood will lead many more to the faith.  And though stories of terror and disobedience tend to grab the headlines, the Church appears to be quietly transforming areas around the world into joyfully faithful communities.  There is great reason for hope.

I am not a member of Opus Dei but their approach to living out the faith makes a lot of sense to me and as I understand it in many ways it is similar to my own.  Every action we take is a sign to others of our faith or lack thereof.  With each encounter with another person we have an opportunity to witness to our belief in Christ.

The times when I have chosen a more direct approach to witnessing to the faith (in arguments about Church teaching for example) I often have found myself incapable of doing so lovingly.  Invariably the conversations became battles of opinion with an underlying sense of competition between world-views, creeds, and individual perspectives.  It is better when I step out of the way and allow Christ to be in me.  This actually takes more effort on my part—quieting the self-certain lawyer inside me and opening my heart to the truth that is in each person created by God.  As a teacher, this means listening more and talking less.  As a performer it means playing to reach others wherever they may be.  As a composer and performer, it truly means stepping out of the way and not trying so hard—a recognition that my role is, as Tolkien said, a “co-creator.”  I can only work well when I create with God’s direction.

All of this requires a strong prayer life, frequenting the sacraments (especially confession), and quiet time in adoration.  It’s not a novel formula, but it is counter-cultural because it requires submission to trusting God to change us while we live in a world that suffers in that vacuous space of the “self-center.”

BB:  Thanks, Kevin, for that lengthy and profound answer.  Where do you think the Church is going?  That is, what is the future of the Church?

KCMcM: The tide of secularism appears to be waning with the aging of that generation which claimed emancipation from the shackles of religion.  We may have already seen the crest of that wave, though I have no doubt that there are many battles ahead.  In it’s wake we must lift up the broken lives, families and cultures that have suffered such great spiritual wounds.  As T.S. Eliot said nearly a century ago: ”The World is trying the experiment of attempting to form a civilized but non-Christian mentality. The experiment will fail; but we must be very patient in awaiting its collapse; meanwhile redeeming the time: so that the Faith may be preserved alive through the dark ages before us; to renew and rebuild civilization, and save the World from suicide.”   While Eliot was speaking specifically about the acceptance of contraception by western culture, I think his comments apply equally to any of the the various secular creeds of the last two centuries.  When we deny by word or deed the existence of a Creator and make attempts to fashion the world in our own image we seek our own demise.

The Church will remain the standard-bearer for truth in the world but it will be a long and arduous task to rebuild cultures because it must begin with the family.  My guess would be that “under-developed” cultures which will lead in this, as they already are.  Places once seen as missions for conversion are now sending priests to evangelize the west.  Our own families, so decimated by self-centered philosophies of secularism, will need to be healed by faithful and patient love.  The world finally has lived out this horrific experiment of atheism and has but a wasteland to show for it.  The Church must once again turn the pagan world away from death and toward the life in its Savior.  There are many signs of hope in the west too.

BB:  Kevin, a final question.  How does one mix faith and art?

KCMcC: If you were to define faith as a “world view” then I think it would be fair to say that faith is the motivation for all creative artists.  Some have faith in an ability to express something through art.  Others have faith in art to offer a kind of outlet for their own struggles in life. The creative impulse flows from a desire to put flesh on the spirit that moves within each of us.  One’s perspective and understanding will greatly shape and color the resultant form which that fleshing out takes.  That perspective might affect even one’s choice of artistic medium.

Historically there has always been a relationship between faith and art but it would seem that the connection between them is greatly effected by the circumstances within which the art is created.  The intensely personal expressions of Emily Dickinson are reflective of her faith as clearly as would be private journal entries.  The same might be said of the established author or composer who receives patronage in some form or another to ply his art simply for the sake of doing so.  The non-religious artist brings that world-view into his work and where it manifests itself.  This is why art matters.

But the best artists are those for whom art is a vocation.  The artists we study and return to years, decades and centuries after they have created are those for whom art is not about the return on the art but about the giving of it.  Those for whom artistic creation is a response to an invitation heard deep inside the soul. Those for whom faith in a Creator is at least an intriguing mystery if not a guiding force for all that they create.  That somehow, despite the meagerness of our efforts, our God can work in us and through us to create a thing of beauty.

“Here vigor failed the towering fantasy:

But yet the will rolled onward, like a wheel

In even motion, by the Love impelled,

That moves the sun in heaven and all the stars.”

conclusion to Dante’s Paradiso

BB:  Thank you so much for your time, Kevin.  What a journey we’ve had together in our lives.  As I’ve told you before, I think you’re one of the finest Catholic artist alive today.  An honor to talk with you.

[N.B. Just to admit my bias, Kevin is one of my oldest and dearest friends.  Kevin, along with Jim Otteson (a philosopher and economist; subject, I hope, of a future “Bearer of the Word” interview) artist Greg Scheckler, Liz Bardwell, Father Bill Miscamble, and a few others, is one of my closest friends since our undergraduate years at the University of Notre Dame (1986-1990).  We not only roomed together for part of our college years, but we also traveled throughout England together as well in the spring of 1988.  We also attended the same graduate school, and Kevin and his wife are the godparents of my oldest child.  We remain as close as we ever were, and I couldn’t be more proud to be his friend.  Though this is the subject for another time, I almost certainly would not be Roman Catholic without Kevin's noble patience with me during my atheist/agnostic years.]

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