Unity Choir Sings with One Voice in Western New York

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This is the sixth in a series on the music ministries throughout the Province. The last installment, in the March 9 issue of HNP Today, featured the music ministry of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Raleigh, N.C.

ALLEGANY, N.Y. — At Easter and other holidays throughout the year, three choirs in and around this Upstate New York town sing with one voice.

Under the direction of Richard Husted, OFM, the Unity Choir sang together at several Masses during Holy Week. Consisting of parishioners from St. John’s and St. Mary of the Angels parishes in Olean, N.Y., and St. Bonaventure Church, Allegany, where Richard is pastor, the Unity Choir brings a diversity of voices to the area churches.

Community Chorus
The choir sang on Holy Thursday at St. Mary, Good Friday at St. John’s, and on Holy Saturday at St. Bonaventure. Comprised of approximately 80 people, including Franciscan Sisters of Allegany from the neighboring St. Elizabeth Motherhouse, the Unity Choir was founded four years ago by Richard, who came to the rural Western New York community in 2002. The members met for practice roughly six times to coordinate the Easter music.

The Unity Choir’s name was chosen, said Richard, “because it was what we were all about — the coming together.”

“I’ve encouraged cantors, young children, all ages and trained them. People love to see the young kids singing,” he added.

Music is second nature to Richard, who has been singing and composing since childhood. “I’ve been part of the new music since Vatican II,” he said. “For 40 years, I’ve been working on seeing how great music is composed.”

He is largely behind the success of the St. Bonaventure Church’s own choir, consisting of roughly 30 adults and 10 children. Directed by Judy Pastore, the choir sings every Sunday at 11 a.m. Mass.

Occasionally, the choir performs at St. Bonaventure University. Richard also writes the music for Gaudete, which means rejoice, Sunday — the third Sunday in Advent — and other music that is performed for confirmations and festivals.

music-rMusic’s Value
“We pray best when we sing,” said Richard, who in 2010 marked 50 years as a Franciscan friar. In 2009, Richard contributed to Immortal Love: The Sacred Music of Anthony R. Fedell, OFM, a collection published by Holy Name Province.

Richard mentioned that music can draw people out, especially parishioners who might not be accustomed to singing because most of the responses are sung by cantors. Richard said that he and Pastore try to find music that is engaging.

He recalled the parishioners’ response to the song, “Roll Away the Stone,” during Holy Week. “The verses are beautiful. I had people raising up their hands and singing as loud as they could. I said, ‘Pretend you’re Baptist.’”

He said, “I’ve seen a lot of things in my ministry with music.” But one thing he knows for sure: “the Catholic Church wants good music.”

— Wendy Healy, a Connecticut-based freelance writer, is a frequent contributor to HNP Today.