Speaking Out: The gift that was Sr. Mary Clarence

By  Paula Ducepec, Youth Speak News
  • September 11, 2019

I often sit in on St. Michael’s Choir School Concerts and Music Ministries listening to the Baroque, Gregorian and Renaissance pieces accompanied by a loud organ, thinking about what kind of people enjoy this type of music.

I sit up tall in my pew and look at the crowd to appease my curiosity. Now, if it weren’t for the youthful faces of the choir boys, then all those in attendance would be older members of our society. This classical music attracts a much older crowd.

Meanwhile, the music ministry and worship groups that I attend attract a different, albeit as pious, crowd. The youth. These music ministry and worship group events aren’t tailored for or targeting youth; it just attracts such a crowd. Contrary to the more classical approach to worship, modern music ministries offer songs filled with the loud snares of the drum, guitar solos and synthesizers.

It may be due to the age gap, but neither generation is in contact with the needs and wants of the other. They both look for ways to cater to their own needs, but they, as an indirect result, almost entirely isolate the other. This I find highly ironic because both music ministries have one purpose: to attract and bring people to church. 

It seems to be practical to bring these two together and find a middle ground. But can it be done?

I turn to one media that was able to marry both the old and new and create sweet, beautiful music: The Sister Act franchise. 

For those unfamiliar with the early ’90s movie franchise, its about a Las Vegas showgirl — Deloris Van Cartier — who goes into witness protection after seeing a murder and hides in a convent. As she hides, the Mother Superior puts her in the choir to blend in. 

Under the moniker Sr. Mary Clarence, she did more than just join the choir — she revitalized the whole lineup of songs. She took what was known and already beloved fusing traditional songs with a modern twist.

As a church goer, this is very important to me. We need to be able to attract people from the two ends of the music-listening spectrum and present to them something they can recognize. For individuals who prefer the early version of the songs, you have lyrics and the melody (albeit a little bit faster). And for those who want a more updated version of what we so often hear at church, you have the more theatrical and uplifting tone. 

The movie used “Hail Holy Queen” twice ­— first it showed how it was played traditionally and slowly, the way it was written. Even the pious and frequent parishioner seemed uninterested about what the choir was doing. They were perky when they were listening to the sermon, but, like a deflating balloon, slumped on their seats the second the choir started singing. It’s no wonder the way the choir stood, with dead eyes and bored posture, caused the congregation to feel the same way. Even the priest looked frightened as he listened to them.

I am not saying we throw out the old and boring and replace it with new and sparkly. I just think that too much of something, may it be old or new, can be saturating. It is good to switch things up every so often. This is what Sr. Mary Clarence did. She changed the way the choir presented itself, and then the music. She first changed the people, then revitalized what needs to be changed. 

When the choir started, they began with the slow tempo that is known and everyone is comfortable with. They sang with a composed but strong voice, confident and inviting. They then take the song to an entirely different level: more upbeat, lively harmonies and a showcase of powerful vocals. 

So powerful that their voices went beyond the church walls into the streets and invited people in.

(Ducepec, 21, is a Bachelor of Science undergraduate student at the University of Toronto studying Anthropology.)

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