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Music at The Church of Saint Vincent de Paul

November 17, 2013

by Cameron Miller

Marie Bernadett leads the choir in ‘Go Make a Difference’ during the 11:00 morning mass on Sunday.

Marie Bernadett leads the choir in ‘Go Make a Difference’ during the 11:00 morning mass on Sunday.

It’d be difficult to walk past the Church of Saint Vincent de Paul on a Sunday morning and not take notice of the unique music coming from inside. A steel drum clangs and leads off a psalm, just one of many distinctive instruments in St. Vincent’s repertoire at the Sunday mass. Percussionist Lilianna Angel notes how it provides a different flavor of sound to the congregants.

“I chose steel drum because I fell in love with the instrument after seeing a steel band perform… I love our collection of instrumentalists,” said Angel. “Marie likes to pick different instruments to take turns playing the intro on the psalms so that the congregation gets to hear the different instruments.”

The director of music and liturgy, Marie Bernadett, leads a diverse group of individuals who come from all over. While some have musical backgrounds Bernadett notes that is not the case for all.

“Some are performers, play in a band outside of church circles, some are professional music educators in the school systems surrounding us, and some just do music at church,” Bernadett said.

She first grew interested in music while attending a Catholic high school, and then got more involved with liturgical music at the University of California at Davis where she wanted to pursue a degree on the subject. After receiving her master’s from Santa Clara in California, she then moved to Albany in 1994, and started working at St. Vincent’s Church in October of that year. The move awakened Bernadett to the musical differences between California to New York.

“We are in a musically rich neighborhood, but you are in a musically rich state. New York has good music programs in schools, so it’s a big difference moving from the west coast to the east coast,” she said.

St. Vincent’s parish is active, as is evidenced at a weekend mass. When a new song starts, almost everyone has their hymnbooks out, ready to sing along. While there is a strong musical presence in the choir at the front of the church, the whole room booms with an assemblage of voices. Rebecca Angel, Lilianna’s mother, and leader of song at the church realized just how different St. Vincent’s environment was from other parishes.

Angel said, “It was only after joining St. Vincent’s here in Albany that I became a cantor, and realized my previous experience with a church choir, although positive for my own musical benefit, was not inclusive or helpful in prayer for the congregation. My choir growing up performed for the church. In St. Vincent’s, we lead the church in song,”

At other churches she is mostly singing by herself, she said, while at St. Vincent’s, the whole parish is singing along. Sunday mass at 11 a.m. attracts up to 375 congregants, all together in song.

Much thought goes into the musical selections, so that they tie in with that week’s gospel and homily. Bernadett also said she tries to keep the music modern and contemporary.

“We certainly do traditional music but not as much as other parishes. More than traditional versus contemporary, I try and go with texts that are supportive of what we believe, and not all old texts do that,” Bernadett said.

While Bernadett does largely have control of the music from week to week, there are guidelines that must be followed set by a music subcommittee within the Diocesan Liturgical Commission in Albany. Sister Patricia St. John, founder and director of the Carondelet Music Center follows the national guidelines approved by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which have very specific instructions on what type of music is permitted at liturgy.

“When someone comes to me and says, ‘I’d like to have this really favorite CD of my grandmother’s played at her funeral mass’–I can say, ‘Well, the National guidelines for liturgical music prohibit the use of secular songs as well as recorded music at liturgy,’ ” St. John said.

St. Vincent’s is in close proximity to The College of Saint Rose, and some students come and put their talents to work at the 6:30 p.m. mass Sundays. Student music director Jesse Rawson said that while many students are busy, it is invaluable when they are able to play at mass.

“It’s difficult to get college students to commit on a weekly basis, but it’s very rewarding when you get together a musically talented group,” Rawson said.  For anyone wishing to attend the service at Saint Vincent’s, the Sunday masses are at 8:30 a.m., 11 a.m., and conclude with a night mass at 6:30 p.m.. Rehearsals for the choir are also on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.

The folks at St. Vincent’s are prepared for more congregants to come and share their faith in song and celebration, a renovation is planned to accommodate more parishioners, and will better incorporate the choir in the congregation.

Angel said when someone had petitioned Bernadett about what they would do about the rising number of participants, “‘I remember someone worrying to Marie that we might have to add more chairs to the choir section because we were getting too big. Marie shrugged, ‘So what? The whole church can be part of the choir!’” -30-


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