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Catholic musician named Tennesee’s second composer laureate

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Michael Kurek

Steve Green | Vanderbilt University Photography

J-P Mauro - published on 06/14/22

Michael Kurek is a lifelong musician and composer who explores Catholic themes in classical music via podcast.

The state of Tennessee, known for its well-established music scene, has just named a Catholic artist as its second composer laureate.

Michael Kurek received the honor for his lifelong pursuit of beauty in classical works, which include several albums, and a career as a conductor that has taken him to 43 countries around the globe. He also hosts a podcast that explores religious themes in music, called “Catholic Adventures in Great Music.” 

Tennesee’s News Channel 5 reported that the State’s House Majority Whip, Johnny Garrett, said of Kurek’s selection: 

“Michael is an extremely talented composer whose music has been enjoyed by listeners around the world. He has already contributed greatly to the rich music history we have in Tennessee, and I am confident he will serve as a wonderful ambassador for classical music in our state.”

Michael Kurek

In a report from Crux, Kurek said that it is his goal as an artist to “enrich and be in the community,” noting that the community is the basis of artistic inspiration and expression. He said that he liked the idea of “blooming where [he’s] planted” and expressed his pride in his new composer laureate title, especially in a state known for music. 

Kurek is a life-long musician who began studying the craft on his own in elementary school. It wasn’t until high school that he got a chance to take his first music theory class where he identified a love of the audible art form. He went on to study music theory and composition at the University of Tennessee and his master’s and doctorate at the University of Michigan. Along with his prolific work as a conductor and composer, Kurek has made a career as an educator at several universities known for their music courses.

Catholic faith

Speaking to Crux, Kurek revealed that he was born Catholic, but became an evangelical Protestant as an adult. He eventually found his way back to the Catholic faith and for this he credits the Catholic songbook. He noted that music’s place in the Catholic Mass is to “enhance the worship experience.”:

“We’re there for the Eucharist, not to see a show.” Music is “supposed to create a space” in the house of God “where he’s physically present in the Eucharist, in the tabernacle,” he said. “That all works together to create this ambiance of setting yourself into God’s presence and preparing yourself to receive the Eucharist, which is the source and summit of our faith.”

Kurek suggests that music can be a powerful tool for evangelism in its own right. He reasoned that if the music is beautiful enough to inspire awe in the listener, it might evoke a recognition of the source of such beauty as God. He equated the experience to the first chapter of Romans, “The gift of God, the author of beauty, is evident by the existence of beauty,” Kurek explained.

Catholic Adventures in Great Music

For the last few years Kurek has merged his Catholic faith and love of classical music in a podcast called “Catholic Adventures in Great Music.” These hour-long programs showcase the works of many historical compositions giving rich historical context to some of their most famous works. While the topics are not always overtly religious, Kurek explores religious themes in the music from the perspective of a Catholic composer.

“God has many purposes in our life. He’s always showing me the same lesson that he’s showing everyone, which is to live virtuously and to live faithfully and with … kindness and charity,” Kurek said. “The music, just like anyone balancing their professional life and their Catholic sensibility, it’s how do you infuse a Catholic worldview into what you do for a living?”

Read more at Crux Now.

Click here to explore Michael Kurek’s podcast, “Catholic Adventures in Great Music.”

Hear Michael Kurek’s recorded works at Spotify.

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