Carl E. Olson | November 15, 2016
Editor's Note: This week, the album O Emmanuel by Notre Dame Sacred Music graduate student JJ Wright, the Notre Dame Children's Choir, and Fifth House Ensemble debuted on top of the Billboard chart for traditional classical albums. Below is an excerpt from an interview with Wright about the album.
Two years ago I came upon an album by a jazz trio that caught my attention because the leader was Director of Music at Sacred Heart Parish (the crypt church beneath the University of Notre Dame's Basilica of the Sacred Heart) and held my attention because it was one of the best jazz releases of 2014. Five of the songs on Inside Looking Out by the J.J. Wright Trio contain the initials “JTC”, which stand for “Journey Toward Christ”, and one of the songs covered was “The Transfiguration”, a song by by noted singer/songwriter Sufjan Stevens. I ended up speaking to Wright on the phone and found out that he was young (not yet thirty at the time), had a wide range of experience in both jazz and sacred music, and was influenced by Cannonball Adderley, Brad Mehldau, Arvo Pärt, Steve Reich, and James Macmillan, among others.
Now Wright and DynamicCatholic.com have released an Advent and Christmas album titled “O Emmanuel”, which features the Notre Dame Children’s Choir, Fifth House Ensemble, and Wright on piano. I recently corresponded with Wright, who is currently in Rome studying at the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music and interning with the Sistine Chapel Choir.
CWR: What was the inspiration for the “O Emmanuel” project? Did it come naturally from within your work with the Notre Dame Children’s Choir?
Wright: There are a couple layers to this question. More pragmatically speaking, I was working with Dr. Mark Doerries and the Notre Dame Children’s Choir (NDCC) on the details of a commission of a new work centered on Handel’s Messiah. Around the same time, I had the opportunity to meet with Matthew Kelly of Dynamic Catholic and show him some of my previous work as well as explain some of my bigger aspirations for sacred music. He immediately suggested the idea of composing a new work for Advent and Christmas to be released with Dynamic Catholic. Dynamic Catholic has been an amazing partner and their mission to re-energize the Church in America has been a guiding principle through the process.