A Passion for Harmony in Hartford

Wendy Healy Around the Province

This is the 10th in a series of articles about the music ministries of Holy Name Province. The last installment — in the Jan. 4, 2012 issue of HNP Today  — featured the music ministry of St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Greenville, S.C.

HARTFORD, Conn. — Gabriel Löfvall, music director of St. Patrick-St. Anthony Church, is passionate about getting people to sing well.

The Argentinian native’s efforts are clearly showing, as the parish has made a name for itself in the community for its music.  St. Patrick-St. Anthony is also known for gathering voices from other parishes to sing together.

“My main goal is to train people vocally and to get them to sing well,” said Löfvall, who holds a master’s degree in music from the University of Hartford. “It’s my passion to have as many people as possible join us and sing.”

All Are Welcome
The parish’s All Are Welcome event, which took place twice this summer, brought together singers from other churches and those who were new to the choir. Löfvall had the makeshift choir practice at 9 a.m. and sing at the 10 a.m. Mass, where it performed easy-to-learn songs like Lightfoot’s “A Jubilant Song.”

Löfvall says All Are Welcome is a great way to introduce people to choir-singing, and the event often recruits several new members.

The church, according to Löfvall, is on the music map. “We have the oldest Catholic church in Hartford, and one with great acoustics. We’re recognized by the music community around us: schools, universities and choral organizations. We often have requests to use the building, and we often host others.”

An eight-part concert series, called Music in the City, offered eight concerts from 2011 to 2012 featuring varied music styles performed by instrumentalists and vocalists from the parish, and from around Connecticut.

At St. Patrick-St. Anthony, Löfvall, with the help of professional conductors Ray Hardman and Pam Johnson, runs three choirs: the Gallery Choir of mixed voices, the Bass Cleft Choir of deep voices, and the Treble Cleft Choir of altos and sopranos. The choirs, which sing at the different Masses, consist of professionals and parishioners, and the church has four paid cantors.

Löfvall, Hardman and Johnson conduct the nearly 75 people who comprise the choirs, while Löfvall also plays piano and organ, with the help of an occasional assistant. Approximately four times a year, all choirs sing together, mostly for holidays and feast days, especially the Transitus of St. Francis.

When Löfvall came to St. Anthony-St. Patrick three years ago, he said the parish already had a healthy music program but he has expanded it.

Part of the reason for this growth, he said, is the support he receives from the pastor, Thomas Gallagher, OFM.

“We have three incredible choirs that enhance all of the liturgical celebrations and provide unique opportunities for prayer and reflection during the course of the year,” Thomas said. “I am particularly grateful to Gabriel Löfval for his enthusiasm, direction and imagination as he guides our choirs.

“Music is ministry and prayer for us. I am certainly grateful for the commitment that members of the choirs make to preparation, rehearsals, and celebrating with us.  The repertoire is broad, multi-cultural, and demanding.  The effort that everyone makes to share in this ministry is obvious to those who join us for worship.”

“It’s fun to have the different choirs and makes the worship experience richer,” said Löfvall. “For Transitus, Lessons and Carols in Advent, a Good Friday requiem, and an end-of-the-year extravaganza, it’s remarkable to have 60 people singing together.”

Diversity Is Key
Variety is also a hallmark of the music program. “I like a diverse program, and will add world music and gospel music to stir it up.” He is preparing a Russian piece of music to adapt for the choir and a multicultural Transitius piece. “One of the beauties of this country is that we embrace all languages.”

Next year, the parish will collaborate with another Catholic church in the city to offer a bluegrass Mass.

Löfvall said that music is so important for worship because it fosters a deep spiritual connection to divinity and God. “And, as St. Augustine said, ‘He who sings, prays twice.’ I couldn’t believe in that more.”

He is grateful to the friars for their support and recognition of the importance of music.

He advises other parishes to keep their music programs alive, even if participation in the choirs is minimal at first. Löfvall has built choirs from scratch before, and said it can be done. “Keep at it. Once you show people that singing in harmony is fun — that something is in the air with harmony — it touches you.”

“Our job,” he said, “is to make worship more beautiful for others.”

Wendy Healy is a Connecticut-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to HNP Today. Jocelyn Thomas provided research for this article.

Editor’s Note: An article about the Music in the City Series appeared in the Aug. 23 issue of Church Street Life, a parish e-letter.