Making a Joyful Noise: SLU Choir 'Zooms' Together In Song
Although parted by the social distancing necessary to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, members of Saint Louis University's Mass Choir are still sharing their talents through special online musical projects to mark the end of Lent and resurrection of Christ at Easter.
The SLU Mass Choir has shifted from the choir room to Zoom meeting room to continue their musical camaraderie. As part of the change, the choir has prepared a video series of music for worship.
The series includes songs for Palm Sunday and for the celebrations that would typically mark the days of Holy Week, leading up to the celebration of Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday.
“I am so thankful to still be able to make the music that I love with the people that I love,” Sally Iocca, choir director, said. “For me, making music, whatever that looks like, but especially in the context of this new Mass Choir project, is an act of creation in defiance of that which would belittle you and upset you.”
“It's so easy to slip into feeling helpless and hopeless right now,” she continued, “but by making music, we bring form out of nothing, we bring beauty and meaning where there was once empty air, and it's empowering.”
SLU Mass Choir, which provides the music for the 9 p.m. Student Mass at St. Francis Xavier College Church, the University’s spiritual home, has been working to find a way to keep the music and community going, even though SLU community members can't meet in person due to the social distancing required by state orders meant to turn the tide in the fight against the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19).
“We found that the best way to do this is spend our rehearsal time recording the music picked out for each Sunday, and then to spend Sunday evenings on a Zoom meeting together where we listen to, sing and play along with the recorded music and we talk about what the songs and the readings mean to us,” Iocca explained.
The choir members worked to launch their project in time for Holy Week 2020.
“It is dear to our hearts, and we wanted to share this music with the SLU community to help them tap into these beloved songs and celebrate Holy Week,” Iocca said.
“My favorite part of Jesuit spirituality is the concept of bringing God to the people, or meeting people where they are,” she continued. “We are all in so many different places right now, both physically and mentally. My hope with this new project is to help keep musical prayer alive in our hearts, even though it seems like it would be easy to let fall behind; and to change and pivot to make this music accessible and meaningful to our students and, hopefully, our larger church community, so that they can continue connecting with this special outlet of prayer.”
About the Project
- Students, faculty, staff, alumni, Billiken family members and friends of the University can explore the choir’s musical video series through the Department of Campus Ministry’s YouTube channel.
- The choir’s members have included the lyrics to each song in the videos. Would-be singers and worshipers are encouraged to listen, pray with and join in singing these songs.
- The choir meets over Zoom on Sundays at 8 p.m. to discuss each song after those gathered have sung along with it.
- The choir invites you to do so too, perhaps by journaling or sharing with others if any part of the song stuck out to you or how the lyrics and emotion might relate to the events of Holy Week or even how it speaks to the current COVID-19 public health crisis.
In Sally’s Words
This has all happened after a few weeks of brainstorming and students patiently testing out new ideas and going back to the drawing board to try to get it right. It is certainly different from what we typically do – at first, we thought that we could just sing at each other during a Zoom meeting, but we quickly realized that latency is an unfortunate given in internet communication.
Preparation these days looks like scanning in and compiling sheet music, practicing and recording individual parts, sound mixing and compiling, and finally enjoying being able to see each other's faces on Zoom, sing and play along to the recordings, and pray together. It's been quite the learning curve with a much busier tech work than before, but it is completely worth it once we get to Sunday night.
I am so thankful to still be able to make the music that I love with the people that I love. It has been a challenging, but safe and encouraging harbor to return to and it keeps reminding me of other things in my life for which I can be grateful. Even though the readings and the songs were picked months ago, they somehow ring even more pertinent and comforting in the current times.
As is often attributed to St. Augustine, "To sing once is to pray twice." I think what this phrase gets at is you pay new attention and attribute new meaning to a phrase from a reading or a line of praise when it is sung. It can be easy to gloss over and forget the very real emotions at the heart of the Word - and the emotions are high through Holy Week and Easter.
Music helps us to tune into these emotions and see the stories and the message in a new light. For example, when the choir discussed “My God, My God,” a student pointed out that through the song, they were able to more deeply understand that Jesus went through true agony and grief when He was crucified; it reminds us that Jesus felt and knows the same pain that we feel.
This wouldn't be possible without the extraordinary group of students and alumni that make up Mass Choir. Their patience and willingness to accept change and try new avenues of music, while retaining their excitement and love for the repertoire on top of all the other changes and commitments in their lives is truly incredible.
Saint Louis University is a Catholic, Jesuit institution that values academic excellence, life-changing research, compassionate health care, and a strong commitment to faith and service. Founded in 1818, the University fosters the intellectual and character development of more than 13,000 students on campuses in St. Louis and Madrid, Spain. Building on a legacy of now more than 200 years, Saint Louis University continues to move forward with an unwavering commitment to a higher purpose, a greater good.
Story by Amelia Flood, University Marketing and Communications.