Story by Christina Leslie, Correspondent
and Mary Stadnyk, Associate Editor
Those from around the Diocese who attended the annual National Association of Pastoral Musicians convention agreed, there were a lot of lessons they hope to bring back to their parish ministries.
“For a musician, a cantor or someone very involved in music ministry in the Church, the NPM convention is the Super Bowl for pastoral musicians,” said first-time convention participant Father John Testa, pastor of Corpus Christi Parish, Willingboro.
Embodying the theme “Praise Serve, Grow: Building on Our Heritage,” the NPM held its 41st annual convention July 9-13 in Baltimore. The organization counts among its membership directors of music, cantors, choir members, instrumentalists, clergy and all who value the harmonious union of prayer and musical praise.
This year’s convention featured a diverse slate of presenters and workshops for the nearly 1,800 attendees.
Father Testa shared how he was privileged to speak with renowned liturgical musicians and composers such as David Haas and Father Michael Joncas.
“I was able to learn more about liturgical music and liturgy and develop a deeper appreciation for musician and the preparation involved by music directors and cantors” for Mass and other liturgical celebrations, he said.
Nancy Paolini, director of music in Incarnation-St. James Parish, Ewing, found the convention to be “very eclectic” with music appealing to those fans of old and new.
“There was something for everyone. In one place, there was a Gospel choir, next door there was a session on Gregorian chant. If you couldn’t find something for you,” she said, “you weren’t trying.”
‘All The Ends of the Earth’
The multicultural atmosphere in workshops was of special interest to Paolini, whose adult choir features parishioners of many different backgrounds, as well as Renee Hatzold, who directs the music ministry in Corpus Christi, a culturally diverse parish community.
“In the past, ‘multicultural’ just meant Spanish and Gospel,” Paolini said. “In my choir, I have people from Haiti, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and the Philippines. [At the workshop] we did some songs in Zulu and French, which would be great for my choir. It was a wonderful experience.”
Similarly, Hatzold said she was reminded of how the Catholic Church is an “immigrant” Church, especially after having attended the NPM’s multilingual liturgies where many of the songs and responses proclaimed had flowed from English, to Latin to Spanish to French and Creole.
An address by Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore about encouraging youth to more fully participate in the liturgy caught the attention of Natalya Bencivenga, director of music in Visitation Parish, Brick, as well as Father Testa.
“The kids should know that they are an important part of the parish, that they belong,” Bencivenga said. “Ask the youth in the choir to thank their parents for getting them [to Mass]. If they feel part of the community, they will come and be proud. All of us need to be on the same page, or the Church has no future.”
“The archbishop said, ‘If the kids say “I am spiritual,” they are talking about themselves, but “I am religious” means they are part of the community,’” Bencivenga recalled. “Jesus didn’t sit by himself at the Last Supper, and he said to serve one another.”
Father Testa added how he came away with insights on why it’s important to incorporate youth into the life of the parish.
“The youth need to feel needed after they are confirmed,” Father Testa said, then added that he plans to use the fall ministry fair at Corpus Christi Parish as a means to engage more young people to get involved.
Joann Held, the volunteer liturgy coordinator in St. James Parish, Pennington, and a cantor in St. James as well as in St. George Parish, Titusville, and St. Alphonsus Parish, Hopewell, happily cited the host of convention ideas she is hoping to introduce in her parish’s music ministry. Among them are finding a way to incorporate more African-American spirituals in the repertoire; be more thoughtful and intentional when evaluating liturgies; choosing songs with catchy, easy refrains; introduce a few new songs to the choir she directs; share music she picked up at the convention with other music ministers in the three parishes; work with the parish communications team to “market” the Triduum, beginning on Ash Wednesday and share new videos from some of the plenum speakers with her liturgy team.
Praising, Growing, Building
Several reflected on the convention highlights, including a performance by a 44-person choir led by the 2018 Pastoral Musician of the Year, composer Paulist Father Ricky Manalo, who in an interview with Catholic News Service, said he saw the Mass as a delicate, three-ingredient process; “it’s text, music and liturgical action, all together.”
Reinforcing Father Manolo’s statement that “music is one of the most important tools for welcoming [non-practicing Catholics] back, drawing them in and also initiating new encounters,” Bencivenga, who was accompanied by six members from her parish choir, noted how the choir members act as greeters before Mass to instill a sense of community.
Upon their return home, she planned to regroup with the six members, each of whom attended different workshops and breakout sessions, and have them report on what they had learned to their fellow parishioners so all might benefit.
Paolini quoted noted music professor Dr. Elaine Rendler of George Mason University School of Music, Fairfax, Va., who asserted how a liturgy with music must not be theatrical.
“If Mass were theater, the congregation is the audience and the priest and music ministers are the performers,” Paolini said. “That’s not the case. The audience is God, the congregation is the performer and the priest and musicians are the facilitators.
“It’s very, very important that music touches the soul. It’s not just words. It’s the icing on the cake,” Paolini said.
Bencivenga added, “Music is not just song, but prayer… You can inspire the soul without the readings or homily. If we can touch the soul of just one person through music, I am in heaven already.”
Held and Hatzold shared common sentiments on the meaning of the convention’s theme, “Praise, Serve, Grow: Building on Our Heritage.”
“When we sing together, we unite our very breath in prayer. When we sing the Psalms and hymns, we have a chance to reflect on the words in a way that speaking them generally does not allow,” Held said.
Similarly, Hatzold reflected on the how liturgical music’s purpose is to “continue the Readings of the Church.”
“That’s why I strive to incorporate music whose words are similar if not the same as the Readings,” she said. “When people leave Mass, they more than likely will not remember the words of the Readings, but they will remember a tune.”