Dorchester native Paul Murray, at left, left the neighborhood for the Big Apple years ago, but he is doing big things in the world of non-secular music. He and the choir of the Church of Our Saviour released their Advent and Christmas album “Hark! A Thrilling Voice is Sounding” on Thanksgiving Day.
Over a three-day recording session, the choir laid down 19 tracks with Murray both at the helm and behind-the-scenes with producers during the editing process.
“It was a really fun process; we had a lot of fun doing it,” he said. “By the end of it, we were all pretty exhausted.”
Murray left Dorchester in 2000 after graduating from Boston College High School and starting his post-secondary education at Westminster Choir College in Princeton, N.J. During his sophomore year, he began working as organ scholar at Holy Family Church in New York City; about a year and a half later, he became music director, a position he would keep professionally until June 2013.
In August 2013, Murray became the organist and music director of the Church of Our Saviour.
“I’ve actually been gone 15 years. I can’t believe that,” he said. “[Time] flies when you’re having fun.”
Murray continues to work with the same pastor, Reverend Robert J. Robbins, K.C.H.S., from Holy Family. “We work very well together,” he said.
Father Robbins is highly supportive of the choir.
“It was really his idea and his support that the choir do this recording,” Murray said. “It doesn’t exist in a lot of places; it’s a rare gem to have that [kind of support].”
With the pastor’s blessing, Murray and the choir recorded the album, featuring songs for both Advent and Christmas. The acoustics in the church are excellent for the space’s size (it seats 500) and reverberation is around four seconds. Churches in Europe, well-known for illustrious sound, range anywhere from six to nine seconds.
The acoustics in the church allowed for a more beautiful sound, though there were some setbacks.
“I knew [the subway] ran underneath the church, but I never realized that when the church is dead silent, you can hear [it],” Murray said. “We had some really good takes and when we got to the end of it, the last chord, the subway starts rumbling underneath.”
There are several pieces on the album with local connections. The adaptation of the Basque carol “The Angels Sing” was arranged by a man named Leo Abbott, who was not only one of Murray’s teachers, but also a fellow Dorchester native; he grew up on Mallet Street. Abbott is currently the organist and music director of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in the South End. The track is the premiere recording of this particular piece.
“So there’s some sentimental value in that,” Murray said.
The arrangement of “O Holy Night” has Boston roots as well. Its arranger, Dudley Buck, was the organist at St. Paul’s on Tremont Street in the 1870s, a faculty member at the New England Conservatory, the first head of Boston University’s organ department, and the Boston Music Hall’s official organist.
The 33-year-old Murray has accomplished much over the years and truly enjoys what he does.
“My work here is a vocation, a calling, and that, for me, is not just about giving concerts and recitals,” he said. “To do church music is a means of evangelization and I felt called to do that since I was very young.”
Murray served as the organist and music director at St. Ann’s for two years during his time at BC High.
“That was my home parish and I knew a lot of people there,” he said. “I always felt a real strong sense of community there.”