This is one in a continuing series of features of music ministries around Holy Name Province. The last installment — in the Oct. 24, 2012 issue of HNP Today — featured the music ministry of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in New York City.
DURHAM, N.C. — The music is beautiful at the large Immaculate Conception Parish but what makes the program stand out is the ethnic diversity of voices.
Music director Angela Flynn, who has held the job for the past three and a half years, attributes the special music program to the unique four choirs, coupled with the fact that she is a dedicated full-time director.
“Most parishes have a director of music, usually for Anglo music,” said Flynn, who holds a master’s degree in liturgy and sacred music from St. Joseph’s College of Indiana and plays organ and piano. “But of the Catholic churches in the area, I’m the only one who ministers to both the Latino and Anglican communities.” Flynn said she had to brush up on her college Spanish to be “functional” with the language.
Immaculate Conception has a growing Latino population and Flynn provides the music for both the Latino and Anglican communities. In fact, the Spanish program has grown so much that she is looking for a part-time assistant for Latino music.
Lawrence Hayes, OFM, pastor, said both the diversity and dedication of the choirs impress him. “I’ve been very moved when volunteers take time off from work to sing at weekday funerals,” he said. “The sense of family is very strong when these volunteers go the extra mile to celebrate the life of a loved member of the parish family who has died, and to console the immediate family of the deceased through their music. We are blessed with so much musical talent here at IC.”
“Both friars — Larry and William McIntyre, OFM — have nice voices and Larry is a gifted musician,” said Flynn. The music program is coordinated by a liturgy team of friars, deacons and Flynn, she added. “We give and take; if there’s something that someone feels strongly about, we discuss it.”
With four English Masses and two Spanish Masses, there is often a lot to discuss.
“We also have a healthy number of Latino families who go to the English Masses for their children, since they are native English speakers.” Many of the families are Mexican, said Flynn, and the music has a tendency to be culturally Mexican based.
Like the parish itself, the music program is welcoming. Flynn, who has worked at several parishes, most recently, St. Stephen in Sanford, N.C., said: “IC is the most welcoming community that I’ve ever encountered. No one is ever turned away from the doors – no matter what Mass, where you’re from, or what religion you are. It makes the parish an amazing place.”
With this in mind, Flynn makes sure the music invites. “I’ve gone to pains to give each Mass a flavor,” she said with a smile. One Mass is “grandchild of the 1970s folks Mass,” with “Catholic comfort music.” Another is very traditional from the red worship hymnal, while another is jazzy, including accompaniment from a professional jazz pianist from nearby Duke University. Still another Mass is a formal contemporary Mass of organ and piano music.
Different Styles of Music
For the Spanish Masses, she tries to incorporate different styles. “I’ve been trying to introduce newly composed Latin-American music from American composers,” she said. “If you listen to what young Latinos are listening to now, it’s a strong blend of salsa on top of American pop.”
Because Flynn has been in the business for years, she emails composers that she knows and stays on top of the latest trends for worship. “I’m forward with that. I’m a good musician, but I’m a baby with the Latino music. Sometimes I come up with slop and my gauge is how the choir responds. If the choir likes it – fine – if they turn up their nose, I’ll find other music.”
Flynn “leads the charge,” as she likes to say, on four choirs – three English and one Spanish, which, at times, practice together. “Both of the communities are calling for more bilingual music.” There are also smaller ensembles that sing for weddings and other occasions, in addition to the 65 persons who sing in the choirs.
“I really love hearing 1,000 people singing like they really mean it. It doesn’t happen all the time, but when it does, anything that bothers me, goes away. Flynn refers to this as the “miraculous mystery of the Mass.” “Even when it’s bad, it still works, but when it’s good, it’s super.”
Music That Evokes Feeling
Music, according to Flynn, makes an impact because it speaks to both sides of the brain and “allows us to be fully human. It allows us to feel. Imagine going to a movie with no music.”
The IC music program works so well, in part, because Flynn readily admits to loving her work. “Don’t tell anyone,” she said with a smile, “But I love this so much I would do it for free.” The choirs went to Rome six years ago and sang at the famous St. Peter’s Basilica. Two years ago, Flynn took the choir to Ireland. In November, they will return to Rome, with visits to Assisi and Florence and will sing at the Papal audience.
Flynn’s best advice for parishes that want to improve their music program is to reflect on its priorities and set aside a music budget. “If music matters, than a church needs to pay for a professional. You get what you pay for.”
She added: “I’ve never seen a parish like Immaculate Conception. I think I’m so lucky to be here.”
Larry summed it up: “Music uplifts, moves, stirs, enlivens and helps to give texture and life to the sacramental event. No wonder St. Augustine has famously written that “she or he who sings prays twice.”
— Wendy Healy is a Connecticut-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to HNP Today. The above image, showing Angela Flynn with William McIntyre, OFM, is courtesy of Simone Degan Photography.