As God Orchestrates, His Life Plays Out

As God Orchestrates, His Life Plays Out
Written by Jack Sheedy
Tuesday, 06 January 2009

HARTFORD – Ezequiel Menéndez leaned into the console of the massive Austin organ at the Cathedral of St. Joseph. He was in full command of its more than 8,000 pipes as he rehearsed a Mendelssohn piece in December for a January recital. But for all his musical mastery, he sees the hand of God orchestrating every note of his life.

He sees a reason God called him to America from Argentina, and a reason God arranged for him to meet and study with one of his musical idols. There was a special providence, he says, in how he was called to serve as music director here in 1998.

All of it apparently leads to God’s plan for Dr. Menéndez to perform the music of Felix Mendelssohn at the cathedral on Jan. 23 in honor of the 200th anniversary of that Romantic composer’s birth.

All of it apparently leads to God’s plan for Dr. Menéndez to perform the music of Felix Mendelssohn at the cathedral on Jan. 23 in honor of the 200th anniversaey of that Romantic composer’s birth.

Dr. Menéndez graduated from the Conservatorio Gilardo Gilardi as Professor Superior de Organo in his native Argentina. He came to America in 1990 to study at Yale University, where he received his master’s degree in organ performance in 1992.

“One of the reasons I went to Yale is because of the organist there,” Dr. Menéndez said. “A professor, Thomas Murray, is a specialist in the music of Felix Mendelssohn, and I always admired Mendelssohn’s music.”

He sees the conjunction of the three M’s – Mendelssohn, Murray and Menéndez – as divinely ordered.

“It’s amazing, but one of my piano teachers in Argentina, one day she told me that she had a record of some organ music,” Dr. Menéndez said. “She didn’t know anything about organ music. So I borrowed the record, and it was Mendelssohn’s Opus 65 played by Thomas Murray. I played that record until it died.”

Later, while at Yale, he wandered into Woolsey Hall, where he heard someone playing the famous Newberry Memorial Organ. He sat and listened. Eventually the man at the organ turned and asked the young student what he was doing there.

“I am an organist,” Dr. Menéndez answered.

“Come and play,” the man said.

After hearing Dr. Menéndez play, the man said, “You are good. I am Thomas Murray. You must come to study with me. This is your audition.”

Recalling this incident, Dr. Menéndez laughed. “That is God throughout my life,” he said. “It’s scary – the opportunity to study with the man whose record I had listened to for so many years.”

While at Yale, Dr. Menéndez received the Charles Ives Scholarship and the Julia Sherman Prize for Excellence in Organ Playing. He was organist at Thomas More Chapel there for two years.

After finishing his master’s at Yale, Dr. Menéndez decided to stay in America for one more year. “I wanted to do some practical training, use what I learned in school, and work for a year.”

He took a position as music director at St. Ann Parish in Avon. “But then things went the way God wanted them to go, and they asked me to stay,” he said. “They did all the paperwork necessary. It’s been wonderful. It’s been fantastic for me.”

He remained at St. Ann’s for six years, when God presented him with yet another opportunity.

“I think God works in incredible ways,” he said. “They had a situation here [at the cathedral] where the previous organist got another job, and they had no music for Christmas. It was the beginning of December [1997] and they asked me if I could play the midnight Mass.”

He played at St. Ann’s on Christmas Eve at 4, 6 and 10 p.m., and at 11:15 he drove over Avon Mountain and arrived at the cathedral 15 minutes before midnight. His playing impressed then-Archbishop Daniel A. Cronin and a hiring committee, and, some days later, he was offered a job.

“They always had good musicians here,” Dr. Menéndez said. “What I was able to do with the help of many people was to go to a different level, creating new programs, and creating an orchestra [the Soli Deo Gloria Orchestra].”

He also enhanced the cathedral choir, which is made up of professional and volunteer singers, now under the baton of Jeffrey Douma, who also directs the Yale Glee Club.

In addition to his duties at the cathedral, Dr. Menéndez acts as an organ consultant throughout the Archdiocese. In 2008, he oversaw the acquisition of two new organs, one at the Church of St. Peter Claver, built by Dobson Pipe Organ Builders of Iowa, and another at St. Mary Church in Milford, built by Casavant Freres of Canada.

Somehow he has also found time to raise a family. His wife, Mercedes, is a renowned pianist. They have four children: Cecilia, 14; Madeleine, 8; Ezekiel, 6; and Nicholas, 4. They live in Avon and are parishioners at St. Ann Church.