This is one in an occasional series of profiles of music ministries around Holy Name Province. The last installment — in the Aug. 14 issue of HNP Today — featured the music ministry of Immaculate Conception Church in Durham, N.C.
WOOD-RIDGE, N.J. — Kristen Dziuba, 24, represents the changing face of music ministry at Assumption of Our Blessed Lady Church. The youthful — but experienced — new director of music, played her first Mass when she was eight, has cantored with her mother, also a church musician, and grew up involved with several parishes in northern New Jersey.
“I’ve attended four to five Masses a week since I was in the womb,” said Dzuiba of her life as part of a musical family.
She has been employed as a music director for seven years, even working in the field while in high school and college. With her musical spirit, Dziuba, hired by Richard Mucowski, OFM,pastor, last February, has been infusing new energy into the program.
“She is helping rejuvenate the parish because parishioners have been encouraged to participate and sing at all of the liturgies,” said Richard. “Kristen brought a vitality to the music ministry and was able to engage both adults and children in offering their gifts of song to God by enhancing the prayers and celebrations at Mass, funerals, weddings, baptisms and other functions. People enjoy coming and participating, not because they are listening, but because they are invited to sing.”
The parish committee went through an exhaustive process in its music minister search, according to Richard, narrowing down 10 candidates to two — Kristen and an older person. “The committee recommended to me to go with the younger individual. Sometimes you don’t have the maturity that the older person might have, but that’s often offset by an enthusiasm and willingness to experiment.”
Dzuiba offers both. “We are growing and there is a youthful energy that is coming with our new program,” she said. “Not just from me. I have an 85-year-old choir member and a 25-year-old member. The camaraderie is growing and we really enjoy our ministry. It’s helping unify this church.”
Dzuiba holds a degree in jazz performance from New Jersey City University in Jersey City, meaning she is trained in voice. She also studied piano, organ, music theater and music education, and plays piano, organ and several percussion instruments.
She had been at St. Andrew the Apostle Church in Clifton, N.J., for five years, and when the position at Assumption opened, she was ready to make a move. Her mother, who was also looking for a change, took Dzuiba’s old job.
“Being young set me apart from other applicants,” she said. “My skill set is also different than most music directors, especially in being vocally inclined. I come from an accompaniment background with a strong choral background and have studied several genres of music. ”
While Dzuiba brings a new face to the music ministry, Assumption is a changing parish, she said. In addition to the longtime elderly parishioners, she said there has been an insurgence of young people. Masses at 11 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. are packed. Assumption parishioners are especially loyal in turning out in full force for specialty Masses and Holy Days of Obligation.
“A strong group of people attend the 7:30 a.m. Mass each day,” she added.
A Community Church
What sets Assumption apart, she says, is its community spirit. “Everyone in town goes to this one Catholic church.”
Assumption welcomed parishioners when the Franciscans gave up administration of St. Joseph Church in Rutherford, about a mile away, several years ago.
“We’re in a state of transition,” she said. “We’re getting closer to where we want to be. The youth are truly getting involved.”
She has been working with, and starting, new choirs. Dzuiba said that though she would like to have different choirs for each Mass, her most important goal is balancing a mix of traditional and contemporary music. “We don’t want to lose the traditional aspect of Assumption.”
The music director is also working to “keep it exciting for younger people while also keeping it sacred and reverent.”
The adult choir, she said, is now up to approximately 17 members, from three when she arrived less than a year ago. She is also working with a new youth choir. One of her goals is to get more members joining in the singing, because, she says with a smile, it’s true: Catholics don’t sing as much as some of the other religious traditions.
Part of her strategy is to let the choirs choose the music they want to sing. “I’m a firm believer in the idea that if you play good music, people will come and will want to be a part of it. Every week, I keep trucking along and people keep joining in. It’s working.”
She says she has been receiving a positive response from parishioners of all ages. “The older people are appreciative that the organ is played and that we respect their age. And they are also embracing the new music.”
Her roots in the Church are deep – her parents met at church, and her grandparents worked in churches – and she is happy to share them with Assumption. She even invites her siblings, who are also musicians, and her friends and extended family members to play their instruments and sing. “We have guitarists, drummers, and an oboe player who come and play.”
She also takes a repetitive approach to teaching the parish new music. “I spend a lot of time finding music that people would sing, songs they really like and introducing them to composers they enjoy, like Marty Haugen, Dan Schutte and Michael Joncas,” she said. “Then I’ll throw in something new from a contemporary artist and play it for a few weeks, either as a prelude or as a Communion hymn, or something like that. If parishioners hear it enough, they will join in. I don’t say, ‘Now, open your hymnals, we’re going to learn this.’”
Dzuiba says she is also lucky to have been able to hire two incredible cantors, and is appreciative of Richard’s support.
Recent projects have kept Assumption’s music director energized. She was excited to celebrate her first Christmas at the parish, holding her first Christmas concert on Dec. 22. She had written new music to supplement the traditional Advent carols, like “O Come, O Come, Emanuel.” She also played the organ and wrote a Mass setting for the ordination of Paul Keenan, OFM, in November.
She reflects on her first year with gratitude. “It has been a lovely first year. I couldn’t be happier. I’m so blessed and happy to have a job, have had a wonderful year and to keep on growing. In one year, we’ve quadrupled in size.”
— Wendy Healy is a Connecticut-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to HNP Today. The photo above shows Dzuiba, center, and members of the choir.