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A Jewish Bassoon Player from NJ Walks into a Rehearsal Hall and Comes Out Catholic

EmmaLee Italia - The Monitor - published on 07/21/14

How the music and joy of composer (Msgr.) Marco Frisina sparked her conversion.

If there’s one thing professional bassoonist Lee Doswell did not expect during a concert with renowned Vatican composer Msgr. Marco Frisina, it was a religious experience.

Doswell’s journey to the Catholic faith began in 2011, when the Livingston Symphony Orchestra for which she played, was invited to accompany Msgr. Frisina for his first U.S. tour – a performance that both inspired and changed her.

"I was raised Presbyterian and became Jewish in college," she recalled. "There I was, playing sacred, Italian, Catholic music in the orchestra – and watching Msgr. Frisina conduct, I could see he was so filled with joy, with faith. It was one of those moments when the heart is reached rather than logic."

After the concert, Doswell began listening to CD’s of Msgr. Frisina’s music, and telling people about how it had stirred something in her.

"So many performers and artists have all been important to me," said Doswell, "but Msgr. has touched me through his music more than anyone."

Doswell began corresponding with Msgr. Frisina, asking to commission a piece for the Plainfield Symphony Orchestra, of which Doswell is also a member. Msgr. Frisina readily agreed; the music he composed will be featured in an upcoming Oct. 11 and 12 PSO concert: "Musical Treasures from Rome."

Bringing Msgr. Frisina back to New Jersey was just the beginning. Doswell’s witness of Msgr. Frisina’s expression of faith through music was the inspiration for her conversion to Catholicism; at her request, Msgr. Frisina even became her sponsor as she began the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults process.

Encouraged by the commission and the progress of her faith journey, Doswell told Msgr. Frisina how she would like to increase awareness of his musical talent in the U.S. Catholic Church.

"He is very well known throughout Europe, but not as much here," Doswell explained. "I started reaching out to local parishes, but that became time consuming and difficult, just one at a time. I came to realize the way to [promote it] would be to have people perform it – to hear and share and fall in love with it."

Doswell reached out to Cheryl Manfredonia of Domestic Church Media’s Catholic radio station, WFJS 1260 AM in Trenton. Manfredonia hosts a weekly sacred music radio program, Cheryl’s Music Hour, which features liturgical and sacred music of the Church. The phone call led to a program interview, in which Doswell told about her experience as an instrumentalist working with Msgr. Frisina, and his music was showcased on air. (To hear Cheryl Manfredonia’s interview with Lee Doswell, click here.)

Manfredonia is also the music director for St. Magdalen de Pazzi Parish, Flemington. She and Doswell concluded that a choral workshop hosted by St. Magdalen would provide an opportunity at a central venue for Church musicians in the WFJS listening area to meet and learn from Msgr. Frisina.

"He really does have a keen desire to come to America, to meet with us and work with our musicians, and write music in English," Doswell said.

Msgr. Frisina, a native of Rome, was born in 1954. By age 12 he had already taught himself how to read and write music and to play the piano. He was ordained a priest in April, 1982. He studied at in the Pontifical Gregorian University, the Conservatory of St. Cecilia and the Pontifical Biblical Institute, earning degrees in composition and sacred Scripture. In 1984, he founded, and since then directs, the choir of the Diocese of Rome – also known as "the Pope’s choir," as the choir provides music for many of the liturgies over which the Pope presides.

After spending 20 years as head of the liturgical office in Rome, Msgr. Frisina was allowed to step down from that responsibility ten years ago so he would have more time available to use his musical talents in the Church. Besides conducting choral workshops in many European countries, Msgr. Frisina has composed hundreds of songs and numerous religious film scores, and was responsible for composing the music played during the canonization of St. John Paul II and St. John XXIII. Additionally, Msgr. Frisina is pastor of St. Cecilia Parish, Trastevere, Italy – just outside Rome.

Despite his many responsibilities, Doswell can attest to how well Msgr. Frisina’s personality compliments his compositions. He remains down-to-earth, approachable, and radiates love for his work.

"Music is how he expresses himself in the world," Doswell said. "His whole language is music – his faith, catechism … he really doesn’t understand what a gift he has."

"He lives the joy and faith of his music … If you’re in his presence, no matter what, you’re gonna be happy!"

Details for upcoming concert events in Plainfield and Basking Ridge, as well as a full filmography and discography, may be found on Msgr. Frisina’s U.S. website.

Reprinted with permission of The Monitor (newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Trenton), © 2014. All rights reserved.

Sacred Music
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