In the hopefully not too distant future, Catholics will be able to return to the celebration of the Mass. The smell of incense; the sight of the priests; the taste of the host upon reception of the holy Eucharist; the feel of fellow parishioners’ hands while exchanging a sign of peace – they will all be welcome when the country begins to open once again.
But what about the music?
As the United States adjusts to the coronavirus pandemic that causes the respiratory disease COVID-19, parishes are among the establishments experiencing financial strains. Musicians are among some of the first church employees and freelancers to be affected by layoffs, furloughs and unemployment.
Zack Stachowski, director of music at St. Ignatius in Ijamsville, is in a good position, as his parish continues to be able to support him. Many of his fellow pastoral musicians across the country are not.
Fellow pastoral musicians and liturgical music publishers have jumped in to help through “As Music Heals,” an emergency assistance fund for church musicians. The fund is an initiative of the Liturgical Composers Forum (LCF), of which Stachowski is a member. According to its website, the fund was started in late March.
The idea came to Rory Cooney, chairman of the steering committee for LCF, early one morning.
“One of the guys on the steering committee was let go of his job,” Cooney said. “There were going to be a lot more than just my friend.”
Now, three of the six steering committee members are without work.
As the LCF is a nonprofit organization, donations are tax-deductible. The organization notes that 100 percent of donated funds will go directly to assist church musicians who have suffered a reduction or loss of employment due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The organization is currently determining how the funds will be split among those who apply.
“We thought something needed to be done,” Stachowski said. “So many of these people are my friends.”
Stachowski is also co-host and producer of the “Open Your Hymnal” podcast, which is a sponsor of the fund.
“Music ministry is able to engage a lot of people at all ages in a really important way,” he said. “When people are more connected to the liturgy, it helps to spur engagement in all areas of parish life.
“It’s one of those things, too, you don’t really know you miss it until it’s gone.”
“Open Your Hymnal” hosted two virtual concerts April 6 and 7 in support of “As Music Heals.” Musicians from across the country – including well-known names such as David Haas and John Michael Talbot – filmed themselves performing a song, and “Open Your Hymnal” produced a video where viewers could join live using the Facebook Premiere feature.
“It was bigger than we thought it would be,” Stachowski said. “We generally averaged 700 viewers at a time.”
The archived performances are on Open Your Hymnal’s website. As of April 14, the videos had a combined 34,000 views.
“I would call (the concert) very successful,” Cooney said. “We’re over $50,000 (raised) in just the first couple weeks of doing this.”
Cooney said that it is largely due to the community effort of pastoral musicians across the country who are donating their time and talents, which include more than music – like Stachowski, who helped produce the concerts.
Above all, Stachowski encourages parishioners to support their own parishes. Catholics should “know what’s going on there, to be active in stewardship and to be engaged in what’s going on (with ministries) at their parishes,” he said. “The next level is to look at what liturgical worship would look like in the United States without well-trained, well-supported music ministers.”
He suggests people think of the various ways music ministers enhance our faith life, both at sacramental occasions, such as weddings and first Communions, and throughout liturgical seasons and feasts of the year.
“Right now, all of those things are at risk,” Stachowski said. “If music, if songs, if being in the choir has in any way shaped or formed you in your faith, your support is truly needed right now.
“Without us knowing it, music has shaped our faith, taught us Scripture (and) formed our discipleship in so many ways.”
To donate or for musicians who wish to apply for assistance, visit asmusicheals.org.