By Carolina Scipioni
Connecting with the congregation when singing or playing an instrument during Mass is one of the most exciting things a music minister gets to experience. The feeling of praying with parishioners through music, the joy of hearing them sing along the songs they know and love, the energy in a church full of people coming together to celebrate the Eucharist, it’s just one of the primary sources of inspiration for music ministers.
After Masses were suspended in March due to the Coronavirus pandemic, things changed tremendously for priests, parishioners, and for music ministers as well. While some ministers such as Eucharistic ministers and ushers do not serve at live streamed Masses, music ministers have continued to serve.
Jerry Pintar has been the Choir Director at St. Athanasius Parish since 1997 and has never experienced something quite like this. “Coming to an empty Church with a single camera pointing at me was a different experience, and it took a couple of weekends for me to get used to it,” Jerry shares. “At first, I decided to do business as usual, bringing to the faithful those familiar songs, but soon I realized that this was also an opportunity to try new things. I decided I would take this time to introduce new songs to them; at home, they wouldn’t have the pressure of singing along and could listen and get used to the new songs. I made a point to introduce at least one new song every week, and I knew that by the time the shelter in place order was lifted, our community would come renewed and ready to sing both familiar and new songs as well. In a way, I think this can be a time of growth both for us as musicians and in the long term for the congregation as well.”
With Jerry at the piano, Gabrielle Rosenberg was happy to help introduce these new songs with her beautiful voice. Gabrielle felt in love with singing ever since joining the St. Athanasius’ Children’s Choir in the 4th grade, and she has never stopped singing at Church. Singing to a virtual audience was also challenging for her. “The first few times, I forgot that there were people on the other side; it felt more like a rehearsal. But I knew that parishioners sheltered at home probably needed to be lifted, and music would help, so I tried my very best.” Gabrielle also shared that when her family from Hawaii and the Philippines started sending her messages to tell her that they were watching the Mass and enjoying her voice, she was encouraged beyond measure.
One of these new songs came quite as a surprise to Fr. Rolando Santoianni, Associate Pastor at the Parish. Before Masses were canceled and in preparation for the Easter celebrations, he had come to Jerry with the song Laudate Domino by Mozart and asked if they could include it as part of a concert that was being planned for Easter. Like many other plans, the concert also had to be suspended. In the frenzy of so many changes for the parish, Fr. Rolando forgot about the song since there was no concert. But on Holy Thursday, he came out from the Sacristy gleaming when he heard they started rehearsing right before Mass. “You are doing it?” Fr. Rolando asked with a mix of disbelief and excitement, “You are singing Laudate Domino?”
“While there was no concert or big Choir, Laudate Domino was still part of our Easter celebration at St. Athanasius, just as it was planned,” says Jerry. “We have made so many sacrifices, and if we can still keep at least part of our dreams intact, we will.”
For those of you who would like to watch Jerry and Gabrielle in action singing another beautiful song, please check out this video: