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Nearly 3,000 liturgical musicians from across the country gathered in Indianapolis from July 9-13 to improve the skills of their craft, ponder the relationship of their ministry to the broader life of the Church, and grow in their life of faith through concerts and common worship.
The event was the 30th annual convention of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians, commonly known as the NPM.
Many of the people who traveled to Indianapolis have been involved in pastoral music for decades.
One of them was Steven Warner, who has ministered in liturgical music at the University of Notre Dame for more than 25 years, most notably as the leader of its folk choir.
On the convention’s first day, Warner, in a keynote address, invited his vast audience to consider how they, through their music ministry, will lead “generations yet to come” to an encounter with Christ, which he said can come to these people in a “life-giving song.”
One way that he suggested that pastoral musicians can do this is to deliberately focus on Christ in their ministry.
“We must tell the story of Christ,” Warner said. “The song we pass along to future generations must not be about us. It must point to someone else: the person of Jesus Christ.”
Warner acknowledged that this is a challenge in our culture that, in its high value of celebrities, often puts more focus on the messenger rather than the message.
“Do our musicians know that they need to be icons so that members of the assembly can see the face of Christ—not the face of a performer—calling them to prayer?” Warner asked his audience.
“This aspect of pointing beyond ourselves is a critical part of the song we need to leave the next generation.”
Warner’s effort to form the next generation of pastoral musicians was displayed the following night in a concert of the Notre Dame Folk Choir at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis.
His work was not only demonstrated through the young adults’ musical performance, which was enjoyed by the nearly 1,000 people who filled the cathedral. It also came through the comments of two young men from the archdiocese who are members of the choir.
A member of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in New Albany, Geoffrey Mooney will start his junior year at Notre Dame in August, majoring in mathematics and theology.
“[Being in the choir] just helped me grow closer to Christ and also helped me figure out what I want to do with my life,” he said. “Hearing all of the stories from previous choir members and people that are in the choir right now, I think I do want to do something service-related after I finish at the university.”
Between songs during the concert, Warner acknowledged the many parish music directors in attendance who helped shape the musical skills of his choir members.
One of those who heard his words was Susie Naville, the coordinator of music ministry at St. Mary Parish in Navilleton.
While Mooney was a student at Our Lady of Providence Jr./Sr. High School in Clarksville, Naville volunteered to organize liturgies and liturgical music at the school.
As Naville was walking into the cathedral, she was happily surprised to see Mooney, whom she had led in liturgical music at Providence.
“When I first saw him, there was a spark,” Naville said. “It just lit up inside me because he was taking what he was given at a younger age and doing it on the college level.”
It was especially pleasing for Naville to see Mooney develop his talents because of the future that lies before him.
“I know that when he gets out of college, wherever God takes him, he’s going to remember that [music] … and he’s going to do that at whatever parish he’s at,” she said.
Mike Deer is a living example of Naville’s conviction.
He graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1991 and was in the folk choir during his senior year. A lifelong member of Our Lady of the Greenwood Parish in Greenwood, he has put his talents—honed in the choir—at the parish’s service for the past 16 years.
“[Being in the choir] just touched my heart and [has] given me a gift that I really can’t put into words,” said Deer, who sang with the choir at the concert. “It’s just something that I’ll always have with me.”
The music that the choir sang was diverse. It included traditional hymnody, a contemporary setting of a poem by Cardinal John Henry Newman, as well as songs that were inspired by Hispanic and African musical traditions.
Singing these varied pieces was a powerful experience for Nicholas Shaneyfelt.
A member of St. Rose Parish in Knightstown who will be a senior in August majoring in computer science and piano performance at Notre Dame, Shaneyfelt sang with the folk choir for the first time that night.
“It was amazing, especially doing it with a bunch of talented musicians who could sight-read music. You wish that you could take that back to your church and have everybody sing [that way],” said Shaneyfelt, who has been a liturgical musician at his parish since he was a junior high school student.
The amazing musical abilities of his fellow choir members were not the only thing that caught Shaneyfelt’s attention.
He liked singing for so many people from across the nation in a choir that seeks, under Warner’s direction, to foster unity among the faithful’s diverse musical traditions.
“He wants it to bring people together,” Shaneyfelt said. “He wants it to be universal, which is the concept of the universal Catholic Church.
“I think that’s such a neat thing to bring these people all in here and to scatter them out and spread this unifying music.”
In his keynote address, Warner spoke passionately about the power of music to bind and inspire people.
“As much as possible, I wish to alienate no one,” Warner said. “The song from the loft should be the leaven for the song from the pew.
“Young and old, left and right, traditional and contemporary—we consciously strive to become one as we sing the mystery.” †