Cathedral music director, organist returning to Fort Worth

On May 3 Phil Bordeleau directs the Cathedral of St. Andrew handbell choir, which he started in 1999 with two octaves of handchimes.
On May 3 Phil Bordeleau directs the Cathedral of St. Andrew handbell choir, which he started in 1999 with two octaves of handchimes.

Serving as a music director and organist at a cathedral is an elite group. Phil Bordeleau has enjoyed being among the select few while leading the music at the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Little Rock.
When he came to Little Rock in 1999 he was looking for more responsibilities and the ability to work full-time for the Catholic Church.
“I decided I wanted to work in a cathedral parish where the expectation of music-making is different,” he said. “The allure of the pipe organ here was a very strong draw.”
After he auditioned on the Nichols and Simpson pipe organ, which was built in Little Rock, he knew he wanted the job.
“The organ here is very, very fine,” he said. “It is known throughout the country. It is one of the largest pipe organs in the state of Arkansas … I was swept away by the beauty of the instrument.”
To buy a similar organ, it would cost about $1.5 million, he said.
On June 30 he will take his passion and knowledge of organs and liturgical music and become the music director and organist at St. Patrick Cathedral in Fort Worth, Texas. The church was looking for its first full-time director and wanted someone who could assist in buying a new pipe organ.
Bordeleau, who grew up in New Hampshire, said he sees this new job as an opportunity to move back home. He earned his bachelor’s degree in organ at the University of North Texas in Denton in 1983 and worked for 10 years building organs while working part-time in churches. In 1993 he was named the music director at St. Andrew Church in Fort Worth. In 1999 he earned his master’s degree in choral conducting from Texas Christian University in Fort Worth.
Bordeleau’s love of music and the Church began at an early age.
“My parents were both music teachers and my brother and sister were both musical,” he said. “Growing up my experience was being in a musical family. It was in church settings; it was in entertainment settings like nightclubs and Knights of Columbus shows.”
When he arrived at the Cathedral of St. Andrew, the church already had a well-known music program for adults and youth. Bordeleau expanded all of the programs and added music concerts on special occasions, such as Good Friday, the Requiem in November, Advent and Mother’s Day, to highlight the local musicians and instrumentalists in Little Rock.
The choir now has about 27 members, including five singers with music degrees and several college students who are studying music and receive small scholarships for being in the choir.
In one of his first decisions at the cathedral, he started a handbell choir. The 11-member choir started with two octaves of handchimes but now easily handles three octaves of handbells.
In 2007 he assisted with the founding of the Catholic High School’s Schola, a group of 10 boys who sing Latin chant for all-school Masses and other special events. Bordeleau practices with them at 6:45 a.m. Thursdays and after school on Tuesdays.
He has always placed a high expectation on the quality of music produced at the Cathedral of St. Andrew.
“People come from some long distances to participate in the liturgies at the Cathedral,” he said. “It is not a neighborhood church. The type of music we always sing inspires people because it is of high-crafting. When people enter a traditional building, they expect, especially with a cathedral, that they are going to hear things they don’t get to hear in a local parish.”
To challenge the singers and himself, Bordeleau has been involved in the Conference of Roman Catholic Cathedral Musicians and the Central Arkansas chapter of the American Guild of Organists. He befriended Richard Proulx, the music director at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago, before his death Feb. 18.
“You will find his name in every hymnal,” he said. “I would visit him each year and he would go through his library and give me things he thought we needed in our Cathedral library. We were able to premiere a couple of his compositions that have never been presented because he knew we were an ensemble he could take seriously and do his music.”
Bordeleau said the best part of his job was hearing “my choir sing music it loves.” Unbeknownst to them, they were able to minister to him following the death of his mother on April 15. They were practicing “And I Saw A New Heaven” by Edgar Bainton. The song ends with “And all tears shall be wiped away and there shall be no more crying.”
“I was so humbled to have been at a place and time here at St. Andrew where this choir loves such music and sang it for me at a moment when I needed to hear that,” he said. “I will hold that memory very dear.”

Malea Hargett

Malea Hargett has guided the diocesan newspaper as editor since 1994. She finds strength in her faith through attending Walking with Purpose Bible studies at Christ the King Church in Little Rock.

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