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The Band Plays On at Boston Shrine

This is the seventh in a continuing series of articles about music ministries of Holy Name Province. The previous installment, in the May 4 issue of HNP Today, featured the Unity Choir, whose members represent several parishes in and around Allegany, N.Y.

BOSTON — The community of St. Anthony Shrine in the busy Downtown Crossing neighborhood is blessed to have The Arch Street Band, a full band of six professional musicians, at each of its seven music Masses every weekend.

With piano, bass, guitar, drums, trumpet, a cantor, and at least three singers, Jennifer Honen Galea, director of worship and music, manages a wide range of musical styles, from four-part vocals with no accompaniment to praise band rock arrangements.

“While our staff is incredibly talented, and capable of performing to the congregation week after week, I maintain the goal of encouraging worship and enhancing the liturgy with our music,” she said. “The song, tempo and key choices, and group’s focus, are all geared to welcome people to sing — or at least tap their feet — and pray together,” she said.

A Prayerful Tool 
“As we all know, music is an integral part of the liturgy,” said David Convertino, OFM, the shrine’s director since 2002. “Here at the shrine, we have tried to enhance our liturgy with the best music we can offer. Jennifer and the music ministry are dedicated to making the music not a performance, but rather a prayerful tool that allows our worshiping community to fully participate in the liturgy by singing, and at times by meditating.

“Jennifer takes a great deal of time and effort to make sure that the music is joyful, uplifting and well-chosen to reflect the Scriptures of the day. Music is vital not only on the weekend but also during the week for special liturgies,” said David, referring to Lazarus Masses, anointing services, special celebrations for the senior program and feast days.

Galea , who has worked at St. Anthony Shrine since Lent of 2006, is a trained classical pianist who has performed as an actor, singer and dancer in musical theater. In addition to leading The Arch Street Band, she freelances as music director for local music theater companies and works as a vocal/performance coach through the Boston Conservatory.

In line with the shrine’s extensive outreach ministry, the band offers a large repertoire of music, according to Galea. “Most weeks we have music from the Glory and Praise catalog, along with the Spirit and Song selections and a good showing of contemporary Christian music.” Chants are also sung, mostly for feast days and Lent.

The seven music Masses are very well attended, said Galea, with the biggest crowd usually at 10 a.m. on Sunday. “It’s not unusual to be a standing-room-only crowd at this Mass. I’m always amazed at how the crowds at all of our Masses stay and sing to the very last note of the recessional song, and then stay to sing the whole postlude.”

Music is very important, she added, because it helps keep the community together.

“I truly believe that the benefits of music are innumerable. Music offers people a true sense of community. We blend our voices with each other and pray together in the most overt way possible. It’s impossible to feel alone when you’re singing with people. When music is a large part of the Mass, it offers people a large role in the liturgy.”

Well-trained Ensemble
Members of the community are not shy to sing, she said. “With a well-trained ensemble of musicians, there is enough musical structure/consistency so people feel comfortable singing out,” said Galea. “It’s like singing along with the radio. People are more likely to feel less exposed than if there’s just a cantor and organ.”

While the shrine doesn’t offer a regular schedule of concerts, it hopes to develop one in the coming year. Galea said the shrine has held a few concerts to promote the release of its five CDs, which are available through the Shrine’s website.

“Songs of Hope and Resurrection” was one of the band’s first CDs. It benefits the Shrine’s Lazarus program, which buries the poor and unwanted dead in the community. The selections consisted of songs commonly played at funerals, including “On Eagle’s Wings,” “Panis Angelicus” and “Go in Peace.”

“Songs of Expectation and Celebration” is a Christmas CD, and “Songs of Worship and Praise,” volumes 1 and 2, is a contemporary music collection.

“We also have a live recording of a performance of the ‘Dramatic Stations of the Cross,’ a very powerful experience we share on Good Friday,” Galea said.

“The shrine has become known as a place of good preaching and music,” said David, who celebrated his last Mass at the shrine on June 26, to conclude his term as director. “We were voted “best in Boston” for our liturgical music. And all that is due to the fine leadership of our director of worship and music, Jennifer Galea.”

— Wendy Healy is a freelance writer based in Connecticut. Jocelyn Thomas contributed to this story.