Thursday, January 15, 2009

A Tribute to a Man of Music.

I knew Jack Kortegast for the 5 years he and his wife, Gaye, were Choir Directors for St. Mary's of the Assumption Church on Magnolia Street. Jack retired from the job when his health made him more or less house-bound about one year ago.

Mr. Jack Kortegast died on Monday.

I did not know Jack well or for long. I was an occasional, Sunday-only choir member, and more of a support member for my wife and son, but I remember when the Kortegast's came to St Mary's and announced that they were accepting volunteers for the new choir. My thirteen year old son, a fellow music lover, "joined up." My wife followed a few months later.

Jack had serious physical impairments even then. His voice was gravelly and faint after a bout of cancer. He had hearing difficulties and severe back and neck pain. But he knew and loved good music: Mozart, Bach, Faure. He knew music as an orchestral arranger, choir director, composer, and organist. I particularly remember his "Tenebrae" service where he combined poetry, hymns, and scripture.

On any given Thursday night, before I ferried my wife and son home from choir practice, I would walk into the half-darkened church, sit in a pew, and listen to the last couple hymns. I remember thinking that we ought to be paying for the privilege of singing in this place with these people.

Not that that little band of 15-on-a-good-day choir was winning national competitions. We weren't. But we loved and sang good music, because that was what Jack and Gaye did, and more often than not we were good and sometimes even very good. Besides that, we liked each other and liked singing together in that choir.

Jack and I both had voice problems and did not talk much, but conversation is not a requirement of friendship and respect. I can say for certain that he was a man who loved his craft and who bore his hardships quietly. I saw that . . . we all saw that. Jack had the humility that comes only from a certain amount of graciously accepted suffering.

Because of people like Jack and Gaye Kortegast my son is not a half-bad singer these days, and is doing what he is doing in no small part to the Kortegasts. Something, he and I will not forget. But most importantly to me, my music loving son saw a fellow music man do something he loved, every Sunday, in pain or not.

Like I say, I should have paid for the privilege.

Thank you, Mr. Kortegast. May God bless you, and may you rest in peace, eternally.
Thank you to choir member, Ken Neill, for assistance and for sending to me the obituary from the Star Telegram. From that obituary:
. . . For over 25 years he served the parish of St. Mary the Virgin in Arlington. Most recently he served the parish of St. Mary of the Assumption in Fort Worth. Even though his health prevented him from playing during the last year of his life, he always maintained his passion for liturgy and music. His greatest talent was encouraging and enabling small choirs to sing the great music of the church. . .


Sonja Cassella said...

We drive from out of the neighborhood to attend St. Mary's and I have long appreciated the beautiful music we have there. Thanks for this post which allowed me to see more clearly how our music was made possible, and also to your family for helping make it happen.

May the souls of the faithful departed, by the mercy of God, rest in peace.

Ken Neill said...

The Requiem Mass was very beautiful and appropriate, done according to the Anglican Use.

Hymns: Alleluia Sing to Jesus, Jerusalem My Happy Home, Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence and Crown Him with Many Crowns.

Appropriate parts of the Faure Requiem served as the Ordinary of the Mass, sung by a large choir which also sang In Paradisium post-Communion. A solo soprano did the very beautiful Pie Jesus.

Fr. Allen Hawkins preached, focusing not on Jack's music, but on other aspects of his work in the parish. I didn't know that Jack, as Senior Warden, was instrumental in the transition of the parish from the Episcopal Church to full Communion in the Catholic Church, as well as a stabilizing force at several key points over the past 40+ years.

A fitting service for a churchman.

Francis Shivone said...

Thanks, Ken.

nodjam said...

Jack Kortegast

No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And herefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. John Donne (AD 1624)

Those words penned by John Donne some four centuries ago are just as relevant today as when they were written. In an era where the popular culture advocates ‘doing your own thing’ and ‘if it feels good do it’ it is prudent to remind ourselves that we are not isolated travelers on this road of life.

But unless one is the leader of a nation, it is often difficult to have a large sphere of influence on our fellow man. There are exceptions of course and one that comes to mind is our friend Jack Kortegast. Jack was not content to have a ‘private’ relationship with God – he understood that the good news was meant to be shared. And share it he did.

In the book of Kings, Elijah found that God was not in wind or the fire or the earthquake, but whispering in the still, small breeze. Jack took time to listen to the whispering of God and acted upon it. How else can one explain Jack’s participation in the building up of God’s people at St. Mary the Virgin. Had it not been for Jack Kortegast and Jack Taylor, would St. Mary the Virgin be what it is today. Perhaps St. Mary the Virgin would not even exist and what a loss that would be to the Church.

The gentle guiding hand of God can be seen in the way St. Mary the Virgin parish has evolved. The remarkable journey of Fr. Allan Hawkins from England to Arlington, Texas and eventually across the Tiber to full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. This journey was aided by Jack as a leader of the parish council. That leadership has impacted literally hundreds of people who have been touched by this parish.

One only has to look at the music used in the liturgy at St. Mary’s to find the Jack Kortegast signature. He realized the importance and the beauty of music in the liturgical life of the Church and promoted it with vigor. Jack shared his musical talents not only at St. Mary the Virgin, but also at St. Mary of the Assumption in Ft. Worth until his health no longer permitted his participation.

Yes Jack Kortegast is an excellent example of what the poet wrote those many years ago. He did not hide his light under a basket but put it on an organ for all to see.
So as he stands before his Lord, he can say “Lord you gave me ten talents and I have invested these and made you ten more”. Then the Lord will say, “Well done good and faithful servant – enter into the joy of the kingdom”.

Rest in Peace
Don Brignac,Arlington, TX, AD 2009

Ken Neill said...

That leadership has impacted literally hundreds of people who have been touched by this parish.

One of whom would be me. Some years after having gone from Episcopalian to Catholic, I had become distant from the Church. One Sunday, for reasons I don't remember, I heard Mass at St. Mary the Virgin. It was Pentecost, 1994, when Fr. Allen said the last Mass under Anglican Orders. One of the hymns was "Come Down O Love Divine", and I was home. I sat behind Fr. Allen's wife who introduced me to the Kortegasts, and soon enough I was in the choir, where I stayed until the Anglican Use parish in Fort Worth was received into the Church.

So God bless St. Mary's!