Wednesday, June 3, 2015

NPM Convention in Grand Rapids: No Better Place for a Pastoral Musician

It was April 23, 1980. I was a senior at Saint John's Seminary College in Boston. I was the principal organist for the college seminary and I was looking forward to graduating in a few weeks and moving on to theology school to continue my seminary studies.

Another musician, David Costa (now Fr. David Costa in the Diocese of Fall River, MA) and I were invited to attend a convention that was being held in Providence, Rhode Island from April 23 to 25. I didn't know very much at all about the sponsoring organization for the convention. David and I headed to Providence for what would be my very first convention of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians (NPM). It is so hard to believe that this was thirty-five years ago!

I was twenty-one years old. I had been studying organ at Saint Paul's in Cambridge, MA, and piano performance at Boston College. I had been playing at Masses since I was in the fifth grade. My family had a rich musical heritage. It was always a struggle for me when I was in the seminary, wondering if I was being called to be a musician or a priest. At that NPM convention during those Spring days in 1980, I knew I was a musician at the core, still trying to figure out how all of this stuff in my life would eventually fit together.

I remember vividly the convention's opening event in a large auditorium. I remember singing with more musicians than I have ever seen in one place. One of the most vivid memories was singing at the magnificent Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul in Providence. The organ had been installed to the left of the sanctuary. I remember Alexander Peloquin playing that beautiful instrument at the convention. Some photos I grabbed from the web:

At that convention, there was a new collection of liturgical music that was premiered. It was the collection "On Eagle's Wings" by Father Michael Joncas. David and I were commuting back and forth from the seminary to the convention and we hurried back on the final day so that we could get back to the seminary in time for Mass at 5:30. After communion, I sat at the piano and David stood next to me and I played and he sang "On Eagle's Wings." It was one of those rare musical moments; everyone in that chapel was transfixed by the simple beauty of the piece.

Folks, I know that I would never be the musician I am, would never be in the position I find myself in, if it hadn't been for my attendance at NPM conventions over the past 35 years. Each and every one of these conventions helped me as a pastoral musician, helped shape me as a theologian, and gave me the confidence I needed to pursue my musical and theological studies. Having now presented three keynote presentations at NPM conventions, I feel honored to be a part of this organization; I am still a dues-paying member.

For those of you who have not attended in awhile, please consider joining your musical colleagues in Grand Rapids this summer for the annual convention. Here is the information. And if you are or know someone who is new to the ministry of sacred music, please urge them to attend. There simply is no better place for a pastoral musician than an NPM convention!

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.


Laurie Cosson said...

I attended my first NPM Regional Convention in Milwaukee in 1996, I believe. I was involved in my parish choir and was a Cantor. I went to a presentation by Lee Gwodz on working with Children's Choirs. I was so inspired by his presentation that I asked our Choir Director if I might volunteer my time to start a Children's Choir at our parish, which at it's peak had 35 choir members. That volunteer position developed into a part time and now a full time position as Choir Director and coordinator of Liturgy. I wouldn't be the director I am today without the formation provided by NPM through conventions, Choir Director Institues, and Liturgy Institues.

Joanne Mercier said...

I was a senior in college that year (1980) and had been asked to do some volunteer work for the Convention. I don't remember much of it because I was working behind the scenes but the next one in Providence in 1982 cemented my then blossoming ministry in Church Music. Even though I am not currently functioning in that position in ministry it was my early involvement in NPM that helped to form the pastoral musician I became and still am through not only its conventions but its institutes as well.

BTW, I've stayed a dues paying member all this time in support of the organization and will remain one as long as I can. Its work is important and needs to continue to help others who minister in music and liturgy.

Anonymous said...

I remember attending the Regional Convention in Milwaukee in 1996 and was part of the choir for the Mass at the Auditorium. I also remember meeting Mr. Richard Proulx and the Holy Name Cathedral Singers, along with Michael Thompson and the Schola Cantacorum of St. Peter in Chicago. It was great. When Milwaukee hosted the National in 2005, I volunteered to work on it and I loved it-meeting Musicians from all over the world and many composers that our parish sings.
What I love about the convention, is that one can grow spiritually as well as musically over the week and get new energy and pep for the next year. Music Ministry is important and I would like to see it grow spiritually as I continue my ministry