By Mary Stadnyk | Associate Editor
Pointing to her midsection, one young participant at the three-day choir camp in St. Mary Parish, Colts Neck, proudly reviewed some of the new skills she learned.
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“When you sing, you sing from here,” she said, indicating that a singer should breathe deeply enough so that the projected sound comes from the diaphragm area and not the throat. And when singing, the mouth should form an “O” shape, she shared.
Breathing techniques was among the skills learned by the 45 children and teenagers who attended the first-ever choir camp that was hosted July 27-29 by the music ministry in St. Mary Parish. For three days, the campers received instruction from a number of music ministers serving in parishes around the Diocese on how to read music, develop healthy vocal techniques, chant, sight read, conduct as well as about hymns and polyphony. While Thursday, Friday and a large part of Saturday were filled with the instruction, exercises and activities, the campers then demonstrated their newly acquired skills when they lead the music for the parish’s 5 p.m. Vigil Mass July 29.
“Because music is tied with words not only are the youth learning how to use their voices properly and to sing, they are also learning the theology behind the meaning of the music,” said Peter Carter, music director for the Extraordinary Form in St. John the Baptist Parish, Allentown, who taught the campers how to sing the chants of the Mass.
Because the music of the Mass is largely drawn from Scriptures, Carter said the camp provided the chance for participants to study the words and understand the prayers. “Then we make the prayers our own by singing them in Mass,” he said.
Noting that the campers hailed from St. Mary Parish as well as the parishes of St. Paul, Princeton; St. Catharine, Holmdel; St. Michael, West End; Our Lady of the Angels; Trenton, St. Anthony of Padua, Red Bank, and St. Gabriel, Marlboro, Lauren Walters, music minister in St. Mary Parish said she believed “good things came from the camp.”
“It was a chance for the young people to learn the differences in music at Mass, taught them timeless music of the Church and helped to give them confidence to sing out, even if it’s from the pews,” Walters said, adding that it also provided camaraderie for children who like to sing but are members of a parish where a music program for youth is not available.
“What was most astonishing was how the young people seemed to break away from the stereotype that children need to use hand gestures or contemporary music in order to appreciate or want to contribute at Mass,” she said.
“For us music directors, we were amazed at how much easier the chant was for them to grasp musically than actual hymns or songs studied and how much better they sang it,” Walters said, noting that she and fellow music ministers Shawn Mack of St. Anthony of Padua Parish, Red Bank, who is director of the Diocesan Festival Choir as well as in Red Bank Catholic High School; Yuko Unehara, worship and music associate in Our Lady of the Angels Parish; Peter Carter, director of sacred music for the Extraordinary Form in St. John the Baptist Parish, and Andrew Macirowski, pastoral coordinator for worship/organist in St. Mary Parish, composed the camp faculty.
While Walters and Unehara taught in three class blocks – first and second-graders; third through fifth-graders, and sixth through 11th-graders, Macirowski, Mack and Carter rotated teaching their specialties. At the end of the day, the group reconvened for a rehearsal and reviewed the parts of the Mass they had learned.
“This has been fun,” Sophia Tyrrell, a member of the adult choir and teen choir in St. Paul Parish, Princeton, said, noting that she was happy to learn how to breathe properly and be able to hold and sing higher notes.
Her sister, Lucy, who plays the piano, guitar and ukulele, spoke of learning about singing harmonies, while Bridget Farrow, a cantor with the music ministry in St. Mary Parish, enjoyed watching the younger students develop their vocal skills in just a couple of days.
Reflecting on how the young people could benefit from the choir camp, Carter said, “When someone finds something they find is beautiful and lovely, they want to share it with others so that they can experience it, too.”
For both the youth and his colleagues who served as instructors, Carter said the camp has “changed us for the better, and we want others to share in that experience and give glory to God by making the liturgy more beautiful.”
“The Church has a rich history of music, almost as old as Christianity itself,” said Macirowski. “It was our duty to bring some of that to light for our young Catholics.”