Composer Roger Maxwell reissues ‘Mass’ for Newtown

Editor’s Note: February is Black History Month. In an effort to recognize the contributions of Marshall County’s black population, Times-Republican Staff and Features Reporter Mike Donahey is featuring a current or former black resident each Sunday through the month.

A protestant black man who believes in the power of the Catholic Mass hopes his interpretation of it will be used as a healing tool for a Newtown, Conn. church and townspeople.

Roger Maxwell, of Windsor Heights, said a church secretary with St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Newtown asked for help in “sharing the grief” during a recent telephone conversation.

Maxwell, formerly of Marshalltown, went back to his past and re-issued “Mass” – a series of prayers set to music he wrote more than 48 years ago.

The retired music educator hopes his offer of “Mass” to the church will help parishioners and townspeople heal from the murder of 20 school children and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School last December.

The church held eight funerals for victims of the massacre in four days.

Maxwell said the church’s choir director told him Saturday the offer was appreciated, and there is potential “Mass” could be performed jointly with the parish choir and a Waterbury, Conn. choir.

Maxwell wrote the original composition in November, 1964 in Toledo.

Assisting him were the late Reverends Raphael J. Goodman and William Devine of Saint Patrick’s Catholic Church in Toledo.

“Mass” was first performed on Dec. 18, 1964 at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church. Rev. Goodman served as celebrant.

Maxwell recently revised it with the help of Rev. Frank Chiodo, pastor of Saint Anthony’s Catholic Church in Des Moines.

“At first I was distraught, then angry over the murder of the school children and staff,” Maxwell said. “But I wanted to do something positive … I wanted to put something in the hands of parents who lost children.”

“Mass” is not the first time, nor the first work Maxwell has used a music composition to induce healing or reconciliation.

He wrote a musical, “Shake Somebody’s Hand,” years ago – a biblical and contemporary opus that blended music from black, white protestant and Catholic churches.

Maxwell was born into a family of musicians on East Boone Street in Marshalltown.

“To help make ends meet, my mother and sisters would go to places and sing,” he said.

After graduating from the then Iowa State Teacher’s College (now University of Northern Iowa) in Cedar Falls, he worked 12 years as a music educator in Hazelton, Wayland, Toledo (the state Juvenile Home) and finally, Brooklyn.

In addition to his published compositions, he has written and researched on a variety of music or music-related topics.

His “14 Weeks to a Better Band” and “Innovations n’ Jazz” books are renown teaching tools, with more than 650,000 copies sold.

In 1993 he wrote “The Blazing Comet March,” to honor the memory of the late Chris Street, a University of Iowa basketball player killed in a 1993 automobile collision.

“I am honored to dedicate this Mass to the memory of the children, principal and staff members of Sandy Hook Elementary School,” Maxwell said.