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Catholic Life Features

Seminarian’s musical gifts leads to Grammy win


The Buffalo seminarians currently studying for the priesthood have many gifts and come from varied backgrounds. One seminarian has sung a Grammy-winning performance with the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus.

Seminarian James Bobak poses with the Grammy received by the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus for its production of “The Passion of Yeshua.” (Photo courtesy of the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus)

James Bobak was one of about 100 voices that took part in “The Passion of Yeshua” conducted by JoAnn Falletta and featuring the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus and UCLA Chamber Singers. In March, that performance received music’s highest honor for Best Choral Performance. The same work earned nominations as Best Contemporary Classical Composition and Best Engineered Classical Album for the work of Bernd Gottinger.

Bobak, currently serving his pastoral year at Queen of Heaven Parish in West Seneca, is quick to point out that it is not his Grammy. In fact, he’s more excited talking about the piece itself than the award.

“It’s the very powerful retelling of the story of Christ’s passion, but from a much more Jewish perspective, Jewish as kind of being more authentic to the historical reality that Christ and his followers were Jewish,” he explained. “The language itself, as the drama unfolds, most of it’s in English, but then there are these beautiful hymns that are sung after various parts of the passion that are in Hebrew.”

He credits author Richard Danielpour for composing such a beautiful piece. “And the Grammy kind of testifies, not just the performance, obviously it was for the performance that the Grammy was earned, but it really is just a beautiful piece in of itself.”

Bobak recalled performing the piece two years ago. 

“It was back in 2019 that we had done the performance of ‘The Passion of Yesua’ just near Holy Week. It was very, very moving and we also had ended up recording parts of it. And there was a lot of post-production afterwards and everything, but it was a tiring week, but a very rewarding one to say the least,” he said.

Music has surrounded Bobak all his life. He comes from a musical family. Guitars and songs filled his Grand Island home. He started playing the keyboards at age 9. His high school, G.I. High, had a solid music program where he took part in talent shows, musicals, jazz bands and choirs. He describes participating in those groups as “life-giving.” It was also where he became interested in composing music.

“It was then that I really started to have this great desire to pursue this love for music in various ways and on a more serious level,” he said. “So that’s where I had decided that I wanted to compose music. And so, I entered the University of Buffalo and then after receiving my degree in 2015, I taught music at St. Stephen’s and then St. Benedict’s.”

While preparing to return to college for a degree in education, he decided to seek spiritual direction. He asked God to lead him where He wanted the young man to be.

“It was then that I realized that I’d been sort of ignoring a call to the priesthood that I had since a very young age. After that I entered Christ the King and much to my surprise I had a lot of fears before entering the seminary about me having to lose anything that I had gained in terms of musical talent or our experiences up to that point. And I can say without a doubt that I was completely wrong and that I’ve been able to use my musical gifts abundantly, both in the seminary and even to this day when I’m at the parishes,” he said. “Currently at Queen of Heaven, I play mandolin with the contemporary ensemble and a variety of different things, such as adoration. I find all these things very fulfilling and music is a gift that can really help elevate the soul to enter into that realm of mystery and of wonder that we experienced at the liturgy itself.”

CDs of the Grammy-winning performance of “The Passion of Yeshua” can be purchased on Amazon.