KING FERRY — Each Sunday, eight young people lead the congregation in song during the 10:30 a.m. Mass at Our Lady of the Lake Church, which is part of Good Shepherd Catholic Community of southern Cayuga County.
These talented children and teens are doing more than simply singing, according to Rachael Tissot, director of the parish’s Junior Choir.
“We’re singing with the Holy Spirit, and that’s the difference,” Tissot explained. “You’re not just singing good notes, which are important, but you’re singing from your heart, which is more important. We’re not just making beautiful music, but we’re singing to draw people closer to the altar of the Mass.”
The young members of the Junior Choir strive to make music that will inspire the congregation to pray, according to 14-year-old Luke Gentry.
“Truly feeling the music can make your connection deeper with the Holy Spirit and God,” he remarked.
In fact, many of the choristers have said their participation in Junior Choir has improved their own experience of the Mass.
“It’s a different experience,” said 14-year-old Juliana Grantz. “It makes me feel even closer to Jesus and God when I do it, and makes me able to focus on the Mass even more.”
“I feel like it connects you to what’s going on at Mass,” agreed Sean Kennedy, 16.
Several parishioners also have told Tissot that the Junior Choir’s music has helped them better connect with various parts of the Mass. One woman, for example, said the choir’s Communion antiphon — sung in Gregorian chant — helped her remember the miracle taking place on the altar and the gift she was about to receive in the Eucharist, Tissot recalled. The choir has only been performing Gregorian chant for a few months and at first wasn’t sure how the congregation would respond to this style of music, she added.
“I thought they weren’t going to like it, but people love it. We had a really good response from the congregation when we started doing that,” Tissot said.
The choir’s repertoire includes songs from a variety of different genres and time periods in order to expose the group’s young members to different types of music. On April 7, for example, they sang “Tree of Life” — a contemporary song composed in the 2000s — for the Communion song, and a significantly older song — “What Wondrous Love,” composed in the 1800s — as the closing hymn.
Choir members said they enjoy this variety. Sean said he especially enjoys singing Communion hymns, while Juliana, an aspiring songwriter, said she prefers the sort of contemporary songs that are heard on Christian radio stations. Maddie Hamel, 17, said she enjoys closing hymns that are “light and airy,” while 11-year-old Jacqueline Grantz especially enjoys opening hymns “because everyone is coming together and it’s starting things off.”
The newest addition to the Junior Choir’s repertoire, Gregorian chant uses a different type of notation than traditional music, and learning this style initially provided a substantial challenge, Tissot said. Rather than serve as a stumbling block, this challenge provided Tissot with an opportunity to remind the choir members not to worry about making mistakes.
“If you make a mistake, we always remember it’s not about us,” Tissot explained. “It’s about God, we can’t have a hurt ego because it’s not about me.”
Before each Mass Tissot also reminds the choir members to sing from their hearts and pray through the songs they sing. She and her choir members frequently reflect upon the fact that every action they take during Mass is a form of prayer. Sean and Juliana served as cantors at the April 7 Mass, for example, and as they sang the responsorial psalm, they also prayed it, Tissot said.
“Even walking up to the podium is part of that prayer,” she said.
Juliana considers herself lucky because she is able to combine prayer with her favorite pastime, which is music.
“Being able to serve God while doing one of the things I enjoy is really awesome,” she said.