By Debbie Shelley

The Catholic Commentator  

During a time when COVID-19 would have people live quietly in despair, church parish music ministry programs in the Diocese of Baton Rouge are striving to bring back worship, hope and life.  

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Many choirs throughout the Diocese of Baton Rouge have been limited or not been able to sing at all because of the COVID-19 pandemic but music ministries are continuing to bring hope during these difficult times. File photos | The Catholic Commentator

 

“Overnight our whole parish music program ceased to exist because making music in choir and ensembles has been deemed highly risky behavior for spreading the virus,” said Ken Thevenet, director of worship at St. Aloysius Church in Baton Rouge.  “Since the (diocese) has asked choirs not to sing for the liturgy, we have discontinued our choir programs for the time being. Everything is very uncertain so I have not made plans for how we would resume our choirs.”  

There is one cantor and an accompanist to sing during the Masses.    

As with other churches, music has been greatly limited at St. Aloysius because parishes have been asked to remove hymnals and not distribute any paper handouts.   

Thevenet is in favor of using projection screens, but the church is cautious about spending the money to install a video system. He said he been selecting upbeat music and is even learning about contemporary Christian music.   

While some church parishes resumed Masses on the weekend of May 16-17, St. Aloysius resumed with the weekday Masses the following Monday. Particularly because the churches did not have Easter Masses, Thevenet was touched by the sound of music and people singing at that Mass. 

“After being away from Mass for weeks, it was beautiful,” said Thevenet.  

He noted that in past tragedies, such as floods and hurricanes, people were able to gather to “get through it.”  

“With this we couldn’t gather and sing and praise God. Some people still can’t,” said Thevenet.  

A virtual National Pastoral Musician Convention was held the week of July 12. Thevenet planned to “tune in” to some sessions and hoped to gain some insights in resuming the music program.  

Cheryl Brothers, director of music at St. Margaret Queen of Scotland Church in Albany and Holy Ghost Church in Hammond, said as music progressively returns to Mass, the congregation will hum to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.  

She said choir members are like family and “want to come up and hug you.” But they understand the importance of social distancing, especially since a faithful elderly choir member died from the virus after being admitted to a nursing home.  

“It made everyone perk up and realize how dangerous this is,” said Brothers.  

The combined music program at St. Francis Xavier and Immaculate Conception churches, both in Baton Rouge, have already suffered the loss of its organist and contemporary and male choirs director Keith Thierry to COVID-19 on May 4, according to Nina Gray, music director. To deal with the tragedy and all of the current sufferings, the churches turn to music.  

“I plan seasonally most of the time. Especially with the style of music we do, it depends on where the Holy Spirit moves us,” said Gray, whose choirs provide exuberant sounds and are anxiously waiting to get together again.  

Currently, Gray may play the piano or organ while one of the choir leaders sings at Mass or she may play and sing at the same time.  

“We try to encourage and inspire people,” Gray said. “Some of the community is mourning a loss, so we try to comfort each other. It’s also for the musicians because we’re trying to get the same spiritual food as the people we are ministering to.”  

She said the absence of full choirs has been particularly tough for its senior members.  

“I know it’s something very challenging and detrimental to them because they were dedicated to choir and that was their (social) outlet,” Gray said.  

The musicians continue to provide music for the live-streamed Masses on social media and people respond positively on the churches’ websites.  

In light of SFX’s experience during the past few months, choir members, musicians and other parishioners have learned “time is precious. You have to savor every moment of being together,” said Gray.  

Before the pandemic, Celeste Veillon, director of music at St. John the Baptist Church in Brusly, planned the music prior to the liturgical seasons. Now she plans month by month.  

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Choirs around the Diocese of Baton Rouge are anxiously waiting to sing together again as the coronavirus has impacted the parishes’ music ministry programs. Pictured is the choirs St. Francis Xavier Church in Baton Rouge, which inspired many during church’s 100th anniversary celebration in 2018.  

 

Similar to other parishes, the music is provided by a singer and accompanist. She posts on the church’s website and emails to parishioners a worship guide.  

The SJB choir members are on an earlier than expected summer hiatus in which they would normally recuperate from a busy liturgical year, especially during Holy Week and Easter.  

 She said the real “let down” was when the churches were closed during Lent, the Triddum and Easter.  

“Lent and Easter is a time when you can really use your music, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, to touch your community,” said Veillon.  

She added having music is a “big deal” for parishioners, even if they don’t sing at Mass.  

“While we are singing the music, they are reading the words. Music comes from the Bible and the words are from Jesus,” said Veillon.  

Rhonda Rossano, music director at St. Joseph Church in Ponchatoula, said now is a good time for parishioners to realize the importance of the responsorial Psalms and other sung responses in the Mass structure.  

She said her congregations chant the Mass parts. The Mass parts and audio clips of how they are sung are posted on the church’s website.  

She noted that the Vatican II’s Constitution on the Liturgy, “Sacrosanctum Concilium,” stated the chant was to be given “pride of place.”   

“The Mass the words and the music – if you go back to the beginning, the early Christians were singing songs from their early Jewish roots and it developed from there. Music makes it much more meaningful,” said Rossano.  

“It’s a happy place to be,” said Rosenbloom. “When we re-opened, all you could see (because of masks) were their eyes, and they were shining, smiling eyes.”  

During Mass, the St. Gerard congregation will hear several styles of music, from classical hymns to contemporary Christian music they might hear on the radio. Rosenbloom said she “pulls them all in” to find messages that bring out the beauty of the church.  

“As we continue this journey through COVID, I try to help people appreciate the different styles of music of the church, and it’s all dignified,” said Rosenbloom. 

Many choirs throughout the Diocese of Baton Rouge have been limited or not been able to sing at all because of the COVID-19 pandemic but music ministries are continuingg to bring hope during these difficult times.