Catholic Free Press

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  • Jan
  • 19

Lifting voices

Posted By January 19, 2012 | 1:00 pm | Lead Story #2, Local
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Diocese starts state’s first chapter of national musicians association

By Tanya Connor

Musicians from around the diocese expressed excitement this week about the first Massachusetts chapter of a national association, which met Saturday.
In mid-December the National Association of Pastoral Musicians granted its new Worcester chapter a temporary charter for a year, said Ray Yu, the chapter’s director and interim director of music at St. Paul Cathedral.
NPM is a non-profit organization for professionals, volunteers, and others who care about the Church’s  liturgical life, and includes more than 7,000 musicians and clergy, according to its website www.npm.org.
“It provides an opportunity to learn from each other, to help each other, to build each other up,” Ms. Yu said of NPM’s Worcester chapter. “We need a common outlet where we can talk about common issues and find common solutions.” She said it’s “very humbling to realize that I am not the only one that’s working on certain challenges” and that she tries to recognize the Holy Spirit in everyone.        “I have yet to hear any snobby remarks about style or parish,” she said. “It’s always been encouraging and supportive. That’s why I like it. The Catholic Church is really about diversity and acceptance.”
“There’s nothing competitive at all;” participants bond as brothers and sisters in Christ, said Betsy Fiedler, music director at Holy Family of Nazareth Parish in Leominster and the Worcester chapter’s coordinator for musical showcase. The showcase, where musicians play and sing music they use, gives them a sense they are not alone, she said. She said they normally don’t get to hear each other since they work the same hours in different parishes.
Peter Brockmann, assistant director for membership and music director at St. Rose of Lima Parish in Northborough, said parish music directors have a lonely responsibility; they plan, work with clergy and help others develop their skills and don’t get to spend much time on their own spiritual needs. Part of being successful in their ministry is being open to new music, ideas and people, and the new chapter allows them to do that, he said. So it benefits the diocese too.
“It’s like our guild; it empowers us to do our ministry,” said Brandon Vennink, Ms. Yu’s husband, director of music at Blessed John Paul II Parish in Southbridge and the chapter’s coordinator for learning exchange. For the learning exchange, he facilitates musicians’ discussions about what works in their parishes, he said.
The chapter’s other officer is Patricia O’Connor, coordinator for koinonia, a Greek word for community, which the chapter applies to the socializing and fellowship in Christ it fosters, Ms. Yu said.
Ms. Yu proposed forming a chapter last February, during a diocesan-wide musicians’ workshop about the new English-language translation of the Roman Missal. A planning meeting was held in September, she said, and the first official meeting, in October, drew 50 people. They voted to apply for the temporary charter, NPM’s standard procedure for new chapters.
Their second meeting – the first since receiving the temporary charter – was held Saturday at Christ the King Parish in Worcester. It drew 23 people, Mr. Brockmann said.
All musicians, priests and other interested individuals are welcome to upcoming meetings, to be held from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays: March 24 at St. Rose of Lima, and May 19 and June 30  in locations to be announced, Ms. Yu said. She said more information is available by calling her office at 508-754-9822.
Members of the Worcester Chapter will meet again in the fall, after the July 23-27 national convention in Pittsburgh, and decide whether to ask NPM for a permanent chapter, she said.
One does not have to officially belong to the Worcester chapter or the national association to attend these meetings, Ms. Yu said. But to be a voting member of a local chapter one must become a voting member of the national association, she said. She said that is done by signing up and paying dues, for which one gets the magazine Pastoral Music and the newsletter Pastoral Music Notebook and discounts on programs the association offers, including ones for Hispanics and Africans. Details are online at www.npm.org. Ms. Yu said those who join NPM will automatically become members of the Worcester Chapter, for which there will be no dues this year.
Before becoming a permanent chapter, the Worcester chapter must hold at least six meetings, Ms. Yu said.
Saturday’s meeting addressed issues related to cantoring, she said.
“I thought it went really well,” she said. “What I liked about it – during the musical showcase we had a wide variety of musical styles, from choral, organ-accompanied work to acoustic guitars with slides projecting on the wall.
“Every parish has to find its own voice in worship style, and worship space has to be part of it. No matter what style you adopt, you need to consider what your musicians can do and the capability and repertory of the parish, because worship belongs to the people. It’s not right for the choir or a big band or whatever to take away people’s right to worship in song. It’s their right and their responsibility. When you have a congregation that can do a lot of the musical things, then the choir can do a lot of other things to enhance it.”
People at Saturday’s meeting included a college student and those with advanced degrees, volunteers and paid church employees, Ms. Yu said.
The March 24 meeting will address issues related to contemporary music, which can refer to a variety of styles and to music written by persons still alive, Ms. Yu said.
“Everyone should give this a chance in March,” she said. “As a teacher and a perpetual student, I always look for opportunities to learn.”