Concert to feature music by KHHS grad Strassberger

Will Strassberger, a 2016 KHHS graduate, is the pastoral associate at St. Paul’s Catholic Church of Jacksonville. His musical composition “The Josephine Octave” will be performed as part of St. Augustine’s The First Friday Art Walk Concert Series on Aug. 4 at 6 p.m. and the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine.


Telegraph Staff Writer

A pope’s declaration, along with the poetry of a German Jesuit priest, inspired a musical composition by a Keystone Heights High School graduate that will be performed as part of St. Augustine’s The First Friday Art Walk Concert Series on Aug. 4 at 6 p.m. at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine (38 Cathedral Place). Donations are accepted as admission.

“The Josephine Octave,” a collection of eight motets, was composed by Will Strassberger, who was co-valedictorian of the KHHS Class of 2016. He has had his own compositions performed in front of seminary audiences, but this upcoming performance is different.

“This is my first concert for a large, secular audience,” said Strassberger, who works as pastoral associate at St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Jacksonville.

Inspiration for the composition began with Pope Francis declaring the Year of St. Joseph (Jan. 1, 2020-Dec. 8, 2021) when Strassberger was a student at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach. In the programs that will be available at the concert, Strassberger writes, “I found the pope’s honoring of the saint considerably pertinent at a time when fatherhood itself faced — and indeed continues to face — profound confrontation. Masculinity has been twisted, confused and attacked over the past several decades, but Joseph always offered a beautiful example of what it means to be a man. He did not exhibit toxic machismo, nor did he cower and submit to external pressures.”

A collection of eight poems by Jesuit priest Wilhelm Nakatenus served as inspiration as well, especially a poem about the death of St. Joseph.

“I wrote a motet for this piece using the text,” Strassberger said. “It was just for a four-part men’s choir to sing at my seminary, but nothing really happened with it. Sometimes I write music, and nothing ever comes of it.”

Strassberger said he wrote what became the seventh movement (about the death of Joseph) first in the summer of 2021. It took him approximately two weeks.

Since that composition wasn’t performed at that time, Strassberger eventually added to it, writing seven more movements in the summer of 2022, resulting in what will be performed this Friday in St. Augustine.

“The Josephine Octave” will feature the Don Thompson Chorale and its conductor, Adam Hooper. Strassberger is a member of the chorale and will be one of 40 voices, singing in the baritone section.

The chorale will be accompanied by organist Rich Lewis.

Strassberger said the composition is about Joseph, Mary and Jesus. The first portion is about Jesus, consisting of a Bach piece, a Tchaikovsky piece and a contemporary piece. The second portion, consisting of six pieces of Gregorian chant, is about Mary.

The remainder of the performance will be Strassberger’s original composition about Joseph.

Each piece of the composition is approximately 3.5 minutes, resulting in an approximately 30-minute performance.

“I don’t want to give anything away, but it sounds really good,” Strassberger said.


Will Strassberger came upon this image of the death of St. Joseph (pictured between Jesus and Mary) after Pope Gregory declared the Year of St. Joseph. The image is being used in promotional materials for the Aug. 4 concert at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine.

Musical life

Strassberger began taking piano and organ lessons at about the age of 8, learning from his church organist, Ruth Young of St. William Catholic Church of Keystone. He said he continued with lessons until he became busy with high school and dual enrollment at Santa Fe College.

He was exposed to a variety of musical styles by his parents, Bill and Dee, and his older sisters, Katie Sue (2011 KHHS graduate) and Holly (2013 KHHS graduate). He described it as swimming in a “genre sea.”

As for himself, he fell in love with movie scores by composers such as John Williams and Hans Zimmer and embraced the concept that there are musical pieces without words that are pure emotion. That led him into listening to classical music and falling in love with Bach, Beethoven and Brahms.

Strassberger was writing music for a couple of years before he went to seminary, but it was mostly just a stress reliever, without an eye toward actual performing his pieces. That changed when he went to St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami.

“In seminary, I finally had a venue,” he said. “We had in-house concerts. We had a men’s choir, so I was about to actually put words to my music, and we could sing it. That was well-received in the seminary community.”

The first piece of his he had performed was during his first year at St. John Vianney in 2018. The seminary held spring and winter concerts annually. A priest had written music for the Christmas 2018 performance, but it “wasn’t landing” for a lot of people, Strassberger said, describing the music as “very interesting, very avant garde.”

“The rector kind of asked him to maybe take a back seat, and we’re going to redo the concert, so let’s think of hymns that are more relatable for everyone,” Strassberger said. “There was a vacancy — about 10 songs we needed to fill.”

Strassberger volunteered something he had written basically for meditation purposes a few months prior.

“We sang it. It was a great success,” Strassberger said. “I don’t say that to pat myself on the back. The audience really like it a lot. That was really cool. I loved that feeling of, ‘Wow. I brought this to people.’”


Education and work

Strassberger earned his AA degree from Santa Fe College while at KHHS. After graduating from KHHS, he began attending the University of North Florida in Jacksonville.

“I felt like I was bred to be an engineer,” Strassberger said, noting that his father is a retired engineer from Clay Electric. Plus, he had an uncle who studied chemical engineering as well as a great uncle who worked for GE.

Strassberger excelled at math, but he eventually admitted to himself that his career path wasn’t leading toward engineering. Instead, his was inspired by his involvement with the UNF Catholic student union and a spiritual leader he had who encouraged him to take risks in prayer, asking God what he was meant to do in life.

“The call to seminary was on my heart,” Strassberger said.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy after three years at St. John Vianney. Strassberger then attended St. Vincent de Paul for one year before discerning out (instead of going into the priesthood).

While in seminary, Strassberger had been sent to the school at St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Jacksonville to talk to students as part of Vocation Awareness Week. He loved the church and the campus.

Strassberger also loved that area (riverside) of Jacksonville, so he returned there to look for a job. As it ended up, he got hired at St. Paul’s and gets to use his seminary training, doing whatever the church’s one priest asks of him.

“My work is still very much grounded in the church as a pastoral associate,” Strassberger said, adding, “I’m doing a lot of things that would be delegated to another priest, except I’m not consecrated; I’m not ordained.”



When asked what his future holds, Strassberger’s first reply, with a laugh, was, “Who knows?”

He knows that music will be a part of his life, whether writing new pieces or continuing to work on older pieces.

“I have a very large library of things that just have not seen the light of day yet because I have been writing them for a while,” Strassberger said. “I’m constantly kind of polishing my older stuff and preparing it for future events.”

If the concert at the Basilica of St. Augustine is successful, perhaps it’ll open doors for the music to be performed at other venues. Strassberger said the music will at least be performed again at St. Paul’s as part of the church’s 100th birthday celebration.

Perhaps he’ll make a career of music, but right now, he simply writes for the joy of it. As Strassberger noted, no one’s getting paid for the Aug. 4 performance of “The Josephine Octave” other than the conductor and the organist who are receiving stipends.

“Maybe it will open the door to commissions in the future, in which chase I’m writing for a client, and there’s something they want specifically,” Strassberger said, “but right now, the music that I write allows me to be free to express whatever I want. If I have a difficult day at work or something, I go home and write about it. I have that freedom to write about whatever I want.”

That musical freedom can also be a blessing to others.

“It’s a catechesis” Strassberger said. “I can teach people about the faith through music.”