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.