When Choir Rehearsal Requires Zoom

How does a choir rehearse during sheltering-in-place for a pandemic? That was the question recently posed to members of the Holy Cross Senior Choir. Sr. Barbara explained that Zoom is a way to keep the Holy Cross singing communities (which also includes the 10:30 Contemporary Choir which rehearses on Thursday nights and soon, the Junior Choir) together and practicing their parts of the music chosen for Christmas. Everyone is muted as Sr. Barbara plays each part separately, sopranos first, then altos. Because of the pandemic, she said, publishing companies are becoming more liberal in sending out sound files which each choir member can use to practice on their own. She also uses their time together (about 45 minutes) to teach such things as Gregorian chant with powerpoint. (Sr. Barbara has always been a "techie.")

Virginia Coe Orlando, who has been in the Senior Choir for about ten years and is a cantor, has found the choir to be a "spiritual refuge," especially after the death of her husband, John. She loves her choir community, "my people," and appreciates the high calibre of musicianship shared under Sr. Barbara's leadership. If anything, she says, the pandemic has underscored Sr. Barbara's gifts of teaching music theory, history, artistry and liturgy. "She is brilliant, a luminary," Virginia believes. "She doesn't like the spotlight; she IS the spotlight."

Nicole MacArgel, an alto who has been in the choir four years, is also grateful to Sr. Barbara as well as Sisters Noella and Betty for rising to the challenge of keeping the choir together, inspired and motivated. She's not surprised though. She points out that the history of music at Holy Cross reveals many challenges along the way "but none too great for our choir of angels."

A brief history of music at Holy Cross which includes the "angels" in these photos from 1983, 2000, and 2012 Parish Directories was offered by Sr. Barbara:

There was always a choir at Holy Cross, she explained, until misinterpretations of Vatican II liturgical documents led to its dissolution in 1969. Because pastoral leaders read interpretations rather than the documents themselves, choirs were eliminated in order to emphasize the Assembly as the principle choir. This, of course, was very upsetting for longtime choir director Lorena Petrie as it was for all who loved choirs, both listening and participating. Sr. Barbara arrived in Santa Cruz about this time and taught for one year before leaving to further her music education.

In 1972 Fr. Mike Marini, a deacon at the time, asked music teacher Jackie Ryan to start a new choir which she did, inviting former members (like Lill Pinheiro) to participate. About this time Sr. Barbara had returned, and in 1974 Monsignor Buckley asked her to direct both liturgy and music for the parish.

It was in the early '70's, when Fr. Phil Abinante and Fr. Jerry McCormick were in residence, that a 10:30 folk choir was begun which consisted mostly of UCSC Newman students. (Present member Julie Stone is a legacy from this time. And first grade teacher Amy Savoni can be seen playing the guitar in this 1983 photo.)

In 1982-83, the Spanish Choir had its beginnings. School choirs were added after that. In 2005, after Jackie Ryan retired, Sr. Barbara became director of the Senior Choir.

As challenging as this time of pandemic has been, nearly everyone realizes that there are silver linings. Choir members Virginia and Nicole confirm that their silver lining has been the efforts to remain close to one another, bonded through their love of music and community. These efforts have resulted in more growth through outreach via phone trees, online newsletters and live-streamed masses and Zoom gatherings. All of these efforts, says Nicole, "have prompted us to be much more proactive to continue to worship together and care for our neighbors....[the pandemic] offers the opportunity to take individual responsibility to put faith into action, to be the hands of Christ." And let us add, to be "the voices" as well.

Both Nicole and Virginia acknowledge the challenges of isolation. Virginia, who describes herself as a "people person," finds it especially hard to be isolated. And before the pandemic Nicole, sadly, had stopped singing in the choir. It's difficult for her to drive in the dark, and their rehearsals are Wednesday nights. "But now, thanks to Zoom, I don't have to drive in the dark!" They both credit singing as a way to lift up their souls "in ways," Nicole adds, "where words fall short. Music is sacred and just as integral to religious life as communion, fasting, praying and human connection."

We're grateful to Nicole, Virginia and all those who sing, Sr. Barbara, Sr. Noella, Sr. Betty, the late and beloved Jackie Ryan and all who contributed to the rich reserves of musical heritage at Holy Cross.

Let's go forth with joyful noise and come into his presence with singing!

(Psalm 100)

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