Diocesan Music Coordinator shares visions of future

The Diocesan Choir sings at the Rite of Election at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on Feb. 13. (Kevin Kelly/Key photo)

The Diocesan Choir sings at the Rite of Election at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on Feb. 13. (Kevin Kelly/Key photo)

By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter

KANSAS CITY — Music, both vocal and instrumental, has played a big role of the Liturgy of the Mass for centuries; beginning with early Christians singing psalms and hymns in both private and congregational worship. Congregational singing took forms: responsorial (solo singing with the congregation joining with a refrain) and antiphonal (the alternation of two choirs). These were followed by plainchant, then Gregorian chant, both excluding musical instruments. With the advent of the organ in European churches around 900 A.D., liturgical music branched out, leading down through the centuries to modern parish choirs with organ accompaniment.

Dr. Mario Pearson, Director of Music and Liturgy for the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and Kansas City-St. Joseph diocesan Music Coordinator, wants to see parish choirs and music directors “join together with the Cathedral to transform the power of music and liturgy” in the diocese. This is an “us thing,” he said. “We are all about collaboration.”

Shortly after adding diocesan music coordination to his music director duties at the Cathedral recently, Pearson faced a big challenge: Vespers and the Mass for the Installation of Bishop James Johnston in November. He credited the “amazing collaboration of colleagues and choir members throughout the diocese” with “an amazingly successful and beautiful celebration.” He added that there were 60 singers from around the diocese involved.

Music on a diocesan level extends beyond planning and executing music and choirs for diocesan events, Pearson said. His dual role is now more organizational than hands on. He is eager to start developing relationships with the more than 80 parishes in the nine deaneries. One of the first tasks on his list was conducting a survey of parishes regarding music and collaboration; more than 60 responded.

Pearson, whose background is in education as well as music, has compiled a 5-point vision/plan for the diocesan choir to strengthen and expand it. He plans to involve each parish at least once annually, “like a family reunion,” as “diocesan liturgies celebrate all of us.” To do so he will invite each deanery to send four members from music ministries to participate in diocesan events.

He summarized his vision and dreams for music in the diocese with a new relational paradigm that rallies the many talented people in the diocese coming together to build, support and mentor parish music programs.

“Expand the concept and definition of the diocesan choir to reflect our diversity and … make it stronger. Our diocese has a large pool of musical talent. I want our diocesan liturgies to reflect that variety. I also want to develop multicultural choirs from our Hispanic, African American, Korean and Vietnamese communities.”

Along with increasing participation in the diocesan choir, he wants more parish music directors involved, leading the choir at different events. “The Chrism Mass and ordinations this year will be led by an ensemble of music directors and Cathedral schola singers,” Pearson said. “As we move ahead all groups will rotate and for some events we will combine forces so everyone’s voices can be heard as a group and as individual ensembles. Diocesan liturgies celebrate all of us and it is the most visible way we gather with our bishop to celebrate our Catholic faith.”

He invites every parish music program to be involved in at least one diocesan liturgy each year by sending four people from their music ministry to sing in the diocesan choir. The leadership and support of music directors and pastors are key to making this happen. If it is important to them then it will be important to the choir members, cantors and instrumentalists. If every parish participates at least once a year then there will always be enough singers for celebrations. Accomplished instrumentalists (string, woodwind and brass) are also needed.

Alejandro Manos, Visitation parish Music Director, said, “I believe there is a thirst in the diocese for community, for sharing ideas and for using the many talents that live in the diocese. There are many creative, talented directors in this diocese from whom, as singers and instrumentalists, we can all learn.”

Build and increase the number of people and parishes who participate in the diocesan choir by making rehearsals more convenient. One change was to choir rehearsal times and places, to accommodate members from St. Joseph, Maryville and parishes outside Kansas City. Pearson plans to develop rehearsal locations in each deanery and add one deanery annually until all nine are involved.

Develop choir rehearsal locations in each deanery in the future to allow more people to participate. This will benefit both the diocesan choir and each deanery; for example, if there is a parish Confirmation Mass, choir members from that deanery could come together to sing for the celebration.

Christie Lynn Ottinger, teacher at Bishop LeBlond and Cathedral School, and church musician for St. Joseph Parish-Easton, wrote in an email, “My parish is a rural parish. Often times it feels like we’re on our own musically. Having the chance to participate with the Diocesan choir and benefit from the learning opportunities provided at the Diocesan level will help all rural parishes flourish musically.”

Involve more music leaders. Pearson has invited several choir directors to conduct rehearsals and events. This utilizes their skills and talents, and gives the choir an opportunity to learn from and work with various conductors.

Alejandro Manos of Visitation said, “I was happy when Mario wanted to use different music directors to lead the diocesan choir for the different diocesan events.” Manos was involved in directing the choir for the Feb. 13 Rite of Election at the Cathedral.

Develop a collaborative diocesan music ministry model that will educate, mentor and grow music in parishes and the diocese. Ottinger continued, “As a diocesan K-12 music teacher, I envision getting our youth involved. I began playing the organ and cantoring at my parish at the age of twelve because my grandmother took me to choir practice. Having someone believe in and invite me to be involved was the beginning of a lifelong ministry and career. We have very talented young people in our diocesan schools and parishes just waiting to be encouraged to share and develop their gifts through music ministry. Including them at the Diocesan level will help develop church musicians for the future.

“Once they accept that invitation, we need to mentor them … teach and encourage … help them develop their talents as they use them in service to the church. Participating in the Diocesan choir would give them a wider view of the impact/purpose/place of music in the church, a larger mentor pool, a place to connect with other diocesan youth, and build their confidence. In return, I think the adult members of the choir would feel encouraged by the presence of young people in their midst. Wouldn’t it be great to see the development of a diocesan youth choir, a diocesan children’s choir, or even a diocesan orchestra?! That’s really thinking to the future. Getting them started is the first step. Mario has a very enthusiastic vision for music in the diocese! I’m delighted and honored to be a part of it.”

Music is important in parish liturgical life – every church document affirms this, Pearson said. “My goal as diocesan music coordinator is to connect us through collaboration and support as keys to growth. Leadership teams serving as mentors, advisors and helpers will build stronger parish music ministry programs through education and workshops … the newly formed National Association of Pastoral Musicians chapters in our diocese and the Kansas archdiocese are great resources.”

Build musical relationships that reach beyond choirs. “With a new Bishop,” Pearson said, “this is an exciting time of new beginnings and opportunities to build, grow and make our Liturgies the source and summit of our Catholic experience. Diocesan liturgies celebrate all of us; we all should come and join together to celebrate us!

To become involved, contact mpearson@kcgolddome.org.


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October 30, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph