2015-08-27 / Around Town

'And a Youth Shall Lead Them'

By James Merolla


Cody Mead pulls out all the stops at the console at St. Mary's Church. Cody Mead pulls out all the stops at the console at St. Mary's Church. The richness of Cody Mead’s baritone voice can take you by surprise. It’s a mature sound, a resonant instrument belying the age of the singer, who is a mere 21.

Mead is the Director of Liturgical Music at St. Mary’s Church, a freelance concert organist, an assistant at the Newport County Choir School, a singer who can raise goose bumps, and a musician who can play any keyboard instrument and a little clarinet.

The great musical satirist Tom Lehrer once said of another prodigal musician, “When Mozart was my age he had been dead for two years. It is people like that who make you realize how little you’ve accomplished in your lifetime.”

Mead, born in Boston and raised in northeastern Pennsylvania, resides in the Point neighborhood. If you join his choir, he’ll teach you to sing for free.

NTW: When did you first know you could sing?

Mead: I began singing at 16. I had been playing the organ since I was 12 and had been obsessed with classical and liturgical music that whole time, including vocal music. Something just clicked at 16 and I suddenly had a strong voice.

NTW: Are you from a musical family?

Mead: My father’s family is musical. He played guitar, sang, and collected thousands of records. He enjoyed every genre of music and had a broad musical knowledge as well.

NTW: Who taught you how to play and sing?

Mead: I studied organ with Mark Laubach, an organist in Wilkes- Barre, Pa., who has a regional radio show. He is well known among church musicians across the country. My voice teachers were a husband wife pair, Dr. William Decker and Mary Decker, both retired music professors at Bloomsburg State University. They met at the Eastman School of Music in 1952. I also studied choral conducting with Bill, and he is a great influence on everything I do musically.

NTW: Did you have to be prompted to practice, or did you embrace it?

Mead: I didn’t take my first piano lesson until I was 11 or 12. I loved practicing. I practiced for hours every day.

NTW: What does music mean to you on a personal level?

Mead: Great music tells a story which words cannot. When it comes to the most moving and beautiful music, no adjectives or metaphors can fully express what the music expresses. It goes beyond language, and inspires subtleties of feeling which we have no words for.

NTW: What was your evolution from student to St. Mary’s?

Mead: I had originally envisioned my job at St. Mary’s as being a transitional gig, but I fell in love with Newport, the parish, and the work I’m doing here.

NTW: You are very young, yet your voice seems to belie your years. What’s it like to share your talents through sacred music?

Mead: My goal is to bring the best possible sacred music to St. Mary’s. I am a perfectionist and my own harshest critic, and when parishioners and visitors tell me how my music has touched them and moved them, it helps me to remember the bottom line: that my music means something to others.

NTW: Why does sacred music seem to elevate in a way that other music cannot?

Mead: Good sacred music forgets the “me” and focuses on something higher altogether. Participating in a great liturgical choir, singing the best sacred music, is a unique experience which never gets old.

NTW: What’s the best compliment you ever received?

Mead: I once received an anonymous card, describing me as “the heartbeat of St. Mary’s Parish.”

NTW: What kind of concert or performance do you love the most?

Mead: From a musical perspective, Holy Thursday Mass is my favorite liturgy of the year.

NTW: Can you spot real talent in others? How do you entice a shy kid to sing?

Mead: We have a great group of kids with beautiful voices at St. Mary’s. I work with them as part of their religious education. I wish they would join the children’s choir!

NTW: What music out there do you want to pursue? Composition?

Mead: I love transcribing music for organ, particularly chamber music. That’s something I’ve been doing more and more of. I’m quite interested in Gregorian chant and the composition of sacred music. I am always composing or transcribing something.

NTW: What do the upcoming months hold for you?

Mead: We’ve already begun choir rehearsals and are preparing music for the fall months and Advent. The choir has grown substantially and improved monumentally over the past two years. I am putting in a lot of work this fall to keep that momentum going.

NTW: What do you want the public to know about you, your choir, or your church?

Mead: Anybody with a voice and good intentions is welcome to sing in our choir. There is no need to be a member of St. Mary’s or a world-class singer to join this ministry. I even give free voice lessons to members of the choir who want them, as the greatest reward for me is the success of our choral program.

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