ROCKY HILL – A choir boot camp? That’s right. Choir members, directors, cantors and accompanists from local parishes made their way to St. James Parish Sept. 22 for an afternoon of warming up vocal chords, dusting off music score-reading skills and brushing up on vocal technique as a kick-off for the new choir season.
They are members of the Hartford Chapter of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians (NPM), a group of musicians, clergy and liturgists dedicated to fostering the art of musical liturgy.
“It’s a wonderful organization,” said Susan Zybert, director of the NPM Hartford chapter and music director at St. Catherine of Siena Parish in West Simsbury.
“Once you graduate from college and start doing music ministry, you no longer have those resources to learn,” she explained. “So we learn from each other, and we learn through NPM webinars to help us keep up to date, and find out what is commonplace and what is new.”
Members, she said, “are hard workers, love what they do and love being around each other.
“There’s such a level of commitment to the ministry and a mutual love of and passion for music that it becomes like a family,” she said.
In addition to providing mutual support for parish musicians, NPM advocates for musical excellence in liturgical celebrations, evaluates new and current music and assists with diocesan and parish efforts at improving the quality and interest in parish music.
“The big thing is networking and keeping in touch with other parishes by sharing ideas,” said Sally Kish, director of music at St. Matthew Parish in Forestville for the past 10 years.
Parish cantor Claudia Peronace agreed. “I enjoy singing, learning new songs and practicing vocal technique,” she said.
Music directors, many of whom are accomplished musicians, held their own session to discuss a range of issues from how to start a youth choir and organize their choirs to balancing a range of voices, getting choirs to sing in tune and recruiting new members.
“I appreciate the camaraderie of the group,” said Toni Jardine, music director at Holy Angels Parish in Meriden.
“It validates what you do, offers the opportunity to learn from those in other parishes, and helps you get to the next level,” she said. Plus, “You feel like you’re not alone.”
Among the members on hand was Father Joseph Devine, pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish in Meriden, who was one of the organists during Pope John Paul II’s visit to Boston in 1979.
He noted that the integral role of music in the liturgy was spelled out by the U.S. Catholic Bishops with the document “Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship,” issued in 2007.
“It laid out the blueprint for music in the liturgy and how it is meant to go hand-in-hand with the message of the liturgy,” he said.
NPM, he said, “helps to keep me sharp musically, and I enjoy the camaraderie of other musicians.” He said he’s also been inspired by attending the annual NPM national convention that draws as many as 2,000 music ministers from across the country.
Upcoming events for the chapter are the annual St. Cecilia Sing at 4 p.m. Nov. 22 at St. Joseph Church in Bristol; a reading session with an educational component on music during Mass from 9 a.m. to noon Feb. 6 at a location to be determined, and a youth choir festival April 16 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the First Congregational Church in Waterbury that is co-sponsored by the Waterbury chapter of the American Guild of Organists.
Past educational events and activities have included discussions on Mass rites, reading new music, learning about Eucharistic acclamations, studying church documents and spiritual formation, as well as performances and opportunities for fellowship and socializing.