Brian Abel Ragen had next to no musical training as a child. (Nothing, in fact, beyond six weeks of flutophone in seventh-grade summer school.) Church did not contribute to his musical abilities, since he attended a Catholic parish during the darkest part of the age of the folk mass. (No one in the congregation sang much, no one sang parts, and only the people holding the guitars themselves were inspired by the groups trying to improve on Mozart and Gregorian chat with a little Peter, Paul, & Mary.) All the same, that summer school teacher did all he could, and music professors at Pomona College gave Ragen a sound basis in musical history while awarding him very hard-earned “B’s.” In graduate school Ragen, longing for some non-verbal expression to wash the taste of literary theory from his mouth, took classes in voice and recorder. He has continued both playing and singing intermittently and become, in his small way, a patron of the arts. In 1998 he managed a tour by the Choir of the Church of St. Michael & St. George when it was in residence at Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and St. Geroge’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.


Ragen’s recorder classes at the Princeton Adult School and then the
Westminster Conservatory (an outreach program of Westminster Choir College) did not make him a master of the instrument, but playing it has given him a great deal of pleasure over the years. He is a longtime member of the American Recorder Society and the St. Louis Recorder Society, and in earlier years took part in Early Music Week at the Country Dance & Song Society’s Pinewoods camp. He continues to perform in public, in churches, at other gatherings that require cheap instrumentalists, and in contexts where it is thought that a group of strangely dressed people playing fipple flutes discordantly evokes the atmosphere of the Middle Ages or Renaissance, periods which were, after all, indistinguishable.


Thanks to the state of the public schools and the Catholic church in California in the 1970’s, Ragen was not at all sure he could learn to sing in the presence of others until he spent some time visiting old-fashioned mid-western Episcopalians. He has sung in the choir of St. Roch’s Church in St. Louis and pursued individual voice lessons with Noel Prince of Washington University in St. Louis. He gives occasional recitals for tolerant audiences, the
programs of which, at least, offer some small element of pleasure or instruction.

Ragen’s work as a critic literary critic and scholar of liturgy has often overlapped with musical issues. Several of his essays can be found in the liturgy section of this web site. He has also written
program notes for Benjamin Britten’s Jubilate Deo.


Ragen has been a supporter of many musical organizations over the years. For almost a decade he has served on the board of
St. Louis Cathedral Concerts, which brings artists from across the world to perform in the unique setting of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis. Ragen has also supported the Cathedral’s liturgical music program and underwritten the restoration of the organ in the St. Cecelia Chapel and the installation of a new console for the Cathedral’s Great Kilgen Organ. That console, which was originally installed in St. Bartholomew’s Church in New York City, is now the only five-manual organ console in Missouri. One of the avowed goals of Professor Richard Loucks, who taught survey of music courses at Pomona College, was to make clear to the future vestrymen and parish council members in his classes the difference between real organs and the sound-making contraptions sometimes substituted for them by parsimonious congregations. Ragen hopes that the professor’s spirit accepts these instruments as tributes to his years of teaching.

Ragen has also commissioned several original compositions.

“Yes! It Was Well” by Bruce Neswick sets a passage from Frederick Faber’s “The Knights of St. John” for choir.

“The Knights of St. John: A Diptych” by Robert Lehmann sets two different English translations of Schiller’s poem, “The Knights of St. John” for choir. Both these pieces are intended, in the first instance, to be used as an anthem at the Order of St. John’s services.

“Blameless” by David Goldstein sets a poem by Goldstein for tenor recorder and alto voice.

(This page will, in the future, include recordings of both pieces.)