By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — People find singing irresistible, whether it’s with the radio, in the rain or reverently in church. And for those who sing in the diocesan choir, at Masses and special events at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, it’s their gift of stewardship to the church.
Diocesan choir members come from all walks of life, and with all levels of talent and artistry. They are young, older, professionals and amateurs, and hail from 20 parishes all across town. There are about 28 “regulars,” and many others from parish choirs who join to contribute to special celebrations.
“This version of the Diocesan Choir has scheduled continuous rehearsals on Monday nights for Kansas City and Tuesday nights for St. Joseph for 18 years,” said Katie Beyers, Associate Director of the Office of Worship (Music) and choir director. “I joined the choir in Jan. 2010, and when (Mercy) Sister Claudette Schiratti retired that April, I took over as director.”
She said she was impressed with the choir right from the outset. “They were always good singers, but I think they’re better now,” she said. “We’ve worked a lot on vocal production and musicianship. It’s been fun too. I believe this ministry has really achieved an appropriate level of ability and artistry. The Psalms tell us to proclaim God with all our instruments. We, our voices, are our instruments.”
The choir is comprised of both vocalists and instrumentalists playing the harp, flutes, violins and horns, as well as Sister Claudette, who accompanies the choir on the organ. “They are a very dedicated group,” Beyers said. “I push them a lot to really become part of the liturgy. I’m very strict about rehearsals, in particular dress rehearsals for special celebrations like the Golden Wedding Mass and the ordination of priests, especially this year’s ordination of six priests. They practice both as a group and by themselves. This is the biggest stewardship commitment that a lot of them can give; their time and their talent.”
Beyers has pushed herself also. She graduated from Rockhurst College in 1999 with a Bachelor of Arts in Theater. “I had great teachers all through school,” she said. “I learned to sing and how to teach to sing. After I graduated from college I worked in two St. Louis area parishes — St. Peter’s in Kirkwood and later St. Luke the Evangelist in Richmond Heights — conducting the church choir. In 2006, I took the St. Luke’s choir to the Vatican, then on a singing tour of Italy. There I was, young, not much more than a kid, conducting adults. I decided that with God’s help, ‘I can do this.’”
She entered graduate school at UMKC in 2007, earning her Masters in Music in Dec. 2009, with three concentrations: choral conducting, vocal performance and early sacred music history. “Music became a full-time ministry for me,” Beyers said. “I love working with singers — amateurs, pros and everywhere in between. Sister Claudette continues to accompany the choir, which is fantastic!”
The Diocesan Choir has sung at many events at the Cathedral so far this year. Due to the nature of event scheduling, there are usually two seasons for the choir: the Spring season runs from about February through June and the Fall season begins in August and runs through November with a two-week Labor Day break. They sang at the Rite of Election, the Chrism Mass, the Presbyteral Ordination, the Golden Wedding Anniversary Mass, the Feast of Corpus Christi and the Adult Confirmation.
This Fall, rehearsals begin Aug. 13 at the Cathedral and Aug. 14 at Our Lady of Guadalupe in St. Joseph. The first performance will be Aug. 26 at the 9 a.m., St. Joseph Guardian Circle Mass at the Cathedral.
Following the Labor Day break, the choir will sing Sept. 16 at the 3 p.m., Bishop’s Recognition Mass at the Cathedral. On Nov. 9, the Anglican Use Pontifical Mass will be celebrated at 5 p.m. at the Cathedral in collaboration with St. Therese Little Flower Parish. The final choral event at the Cathedral before Christmas will be the St. Cecelia Hymn Festival, 3 p.m., Nov. 18.
“The choir’s performance level is really good,” Beyers said, “and I look forward to sharing it with the community.”
She has added some different musical styles to the Diocesan Choir’s repertoire this season. “We introduced the Mass of Wisdom by Steven Janco this Spring, and Bishop Finn just approved it for our service music,” Beyers said. “Simple melodies, based on ascending and descending scales; we sing it in unison. This Fall we’ll introduce the harmonies to it. Two hymns were recently approved by the bishop for the Choir’s repertoire: “O Taste and See” by Ralph Vaughan-Williams (1872-1958), and “Ave Maria” by Bonnie Barrows (1954- ).We sing many old style Catholic hymns, such as Again We Keep this Solemn Fast (Old Hundredth) and All Creatures of Our God and King (Lasst Uns Erfreuen). We’ve chosen the old hymns because they put us in touch with the traditions of the Church. And if everyone knows the words, they can be a very powerful prayer.”
The choir also sings Ambrosian Chant (Christus Vincit!) and Roman Chant (Latin Mass). Both chants are liturgical plainchant closely related to Gregorian Chant, which by the 13th Century had begun to supplant the old Roman Chant. Chant-based anthems and responsories, including O Redeemer, an anthem arranged by Brian Luckner, based on the Gregorian Chant O Redemptor, and Tantum Ergo, based on St. Thomas Aquinas’ medieval chant, Pange Lingua.
Beyers has chosen choral anthems from six different musical eras: Medieval, Renaissance (sung a cappella), Baroque, Romantic, 20th Century and 21st Century. Some of the anthems are familiar, including Ave Maria by T.L. Victoria, Behold the Lamb of God from Handel’s Messiah, Alleluja! by Henry Purcell and Panis Angelicus by Cesar Franck. Others lesser known pieces include Lauda Sion Salvatorem by St. Thomas Aquinas and a modern anthem, Ave Verum by Philip Stopford.
“Maker of All!” A choral setting of Psalm 41 by Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) was also recently approved for the choir’s repertoire.
The choir also performs in non-liturgical events such as concerts and festivals.
“We find joy in each other and enjoy being together, singing,” Beyers said, “and that makes the choir even better. God has given me the tools for this ministry and I do it. We are a ministry family, giving of ourselves and our talents. We use ourselves to increase the solemnity of the Mass.”
Membership is open to anyone in the Diocese age 16 and up. Previous choir experience is welcome but not required. What is required is a willingness to learn, a love of music, and a desire to devote one’s talents and gifts to the spiritual advancement of the Church as a whole. If you would like to join the choir, contact Katie Beyers (816) 756-1850, ext 255 or firstname.lastname@example.org.