The Catholic University of America

Oct. 16, 2012

Music Lecturer Receives Prize For Dissertation

Kevin O’Brien, a lecturer in music at the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music at Catholic University, has received the 2011 Julius Herford Dissertation Prize for his dissertation “Russell Woollen: Catalogue and Contextual Examination of the Sacred Music.”

The Herford Prize, awarded by the National Research and Publications Committee of the American Choral Directors Association, is given for the outstanding doctoral terminal research project in choral music.

  Kevin O'Brien
  Kevin O'Brien receives the 2011 Julius Herford Dissertation Prize for his outstanding doctoral terminal research project in choral music.

O'Brien was the first graduate of the Doctor of Musical Arts in Sacred Music program in 2011, with Leo Nestor, Justine Bayard Ward Professor, director of Institute of Sacred Music, as his adviser.

“I am delighted that one of our alums, now an instructor, would receive such a prestigious prize,” said Grayson Wagstaff, dean. “It is a great sign of recognition for our esteemed program in sacred music and shows once again that CUA is a leading center for performance and research on Catholic musical traditions.”

In his recommendation letter to the committee, Wagstaff wrote, “As a result of the research undertaken, Dr. O'Brien was asked to author the entry on Russell Woollen for the forthcoming second edition of the New Grove Dictionary of American Music and Musicians … . Dr. O’Brien’s treatise provides scholar conductors with an annotated catalogue of the entire oeuvre, with a comprehensive biography and insightful information on the choral canon… . In its published form, the study should be on the bookshelves of all conductors and scholars of choral music.”

The committee’s comments included the following: “ 'an exhaustive study supported by multiple resources… very thorough history of Roman Catholic church music and composers;’ ‘a mature writer and a very fine story-teller … .’ All committee members felt it made a contribution of the highest caliber to the body of choral scholarship.”

O’Brien said he was happy to receive such recognition of his work, “but, even more so, I am proud to accept it as a member of the CUA community, which has been my home for 10 years now, because the dissertation is so intimately tied to CUA. Russell Woollen was not only a noteworthy composer in his own right, but much of his seminal work is intimately tied to his position as a founding faculty member of CUA’s department of music. The recognition by the American Choral Directors Association to a doctorate in sacred music per se is all the more special.”

He added that his dissertation is about “one man’s efforts to meld excellence in artistic craft with the musical desires of the Church in the time surrounding Vatican II, efforts which were ultimately forgotten.”

“That the American Choral Directors Association cites the man and his music as important and worthy of revival gives me great hope that the music of Woollen and others who in their compositions proclaim the Gospel of God the beautiful may have re-genesis in the secular and sacred realms of musical performance,” O’Brien said.

O’Brien teaches undergraduate choral conducting, music theory, and conducts two of the school's five choruses. He received his B.M. in Sacred Music (organ concentration) from Westminster Choir College of Rider University and holds M.M.S.M. and Doctor of Musical Arts degrees in sacred music with concentration in choral music.

He is in his 10th year as music director at St. Peter’s Catholic Church on Capitol Hill, and is active as conductor in both the University and Washington, D.C., communities.

Each year, the Julius Herford Prize Subcommittee accepts nominations for the outstanding doctoral terminal research project in choral music. O’Brien will receive a $1,000 cash prize and a commemorative plaque at the ACDA national convention in Dallas in March 2013.


More news from CUA