When older vocalists needed to step away from the choir loft during the COVID-19 pandemic, four youths at St. Patrick Parish in Walkerton stepped up to sing at parish Masses. Karah Schutz, Reese Palmater, Nicholas Beem and Delilah Phelan have been using their musical talents to bring joy and life to their parish since the beginning of the quiet days of the last year.
“If it wasn’t for the kids, it’d just be plain music,” St. Patrick music director Anna Chaffee commented. She said no words could express her gratitude and admiration for the four young people, who helped continue the liturgical celebration for months. Without singing, “It’s just not the same.”
Each of the youths and their families were involved in parish life at St. Patrick. Their parents serve as sacristans, money counters, lectors and one of their grandmothers is a cantor. They had all sung in church before, but with the pandemic, some found themselves soloing for the first time. All have unique reasons for stepping up to this momentous task.
Oldest of the four, Schutz is now a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin. She has studied music for years, starting with violin in the second grade and all through her high school years, adding other instruments to her repertoire. Last summer, she brought her talents to the Mass, playing violin and then singing when it was allowed again.
She recalled the first time she volunteered with the church choir. “I don’t know what if it was God or just the community; I felt that I wanted to go up into the balcony, introduce myself and be like ‘I’m a singer.’” She did and continues to sing at her home parish during her holiday breaks from college.
Reese, Nicholas and Delilah were altar servers. They range in age from 11 to 14. When the opportunity to move into the balcony came along, all three made that transition easily.
Reese has a musical background as well and sometimes played violin in duet with Schutz over the summer. “I was singing before Covid; I really liked it,” she stated. “Everyone here is just so nice, I decided I really wanted to sing throughout Covid and I never really stopped.”
“What kind of got me here was my grandma. She kind of introduced singing in the church choir to me,” Nicholas said. He began singing the Alleluia with her, then started with other songs, eventually performing for his own first Communion celebration.
Delilah shared, “I first got into music when I was very young. I would sing in church — not in the choir, just normally with the people. Then we moved and I had the opportunity to join the choir, so I did.”
With the onset of COVID-19, some of the older members of the choir chose to remain at home for their well-being. Though no one asked the younger people to take over the singing duties, they all saw a need and showed maturity by filling that gap.
“At the time, it was me and one other lady, and that was it,” Delilah explained. “When Covid started, she stopped coming, and so I felt like I needed to at least fit in that role and stay and help. I do like singing, too, so I was comfortable with it.”
Chaffee explained that Reese and Nicholas generally sing at the 10:30 a.m. Mass and Delilah sings by herself at the 8 a.m. None of the youths were nervous to sing without the influence of older adults.
“Ever since I was little, I’ve been doing dance and I’ve been dancing in front of audiences and stuff, so I’m kind of used to being in front of a crowd,” Delilah said.
“And if you don’t want to look at the people, you can look at the music,” Schutz added jokingly.
Each have their favorite memories of singing at St. Patrick. One of these special moments was the dedication of the new altar, which took place last year just prior to the onset of the pandemic.
Both Nicholas and Delilah recalled how many hours of practice it took to learn the Glendalough Mass, which is an Irish Mass.
Nicholas shared, “The bishop seemed blown away by it. He, as my grandma would say, was just tickled pink. It was just so satisfying, after all that practice, to do it. It was well worth it.”
Easter Vigil was another special occasion for Nicholas.
“I was very, very nervous. I didn’t want to go; I had a fear of messing up,” he admitted. But he faced that fear to perform his first solo at church.
“I just blew myself away. I figured I wouldn’t do that good, but I did way better than I expected. That’s now my favorite psalm to sing.” Additionally, he said he loved the transition from darkness to light and solemn song to glorious praise that represents Jesus’ triumphant return from the dead.
As an older member of the impromptu choir, Schutz sees herself as a mentor to younger musicians.
“It’s really fun for me to teach them about music and the different meters … so it was fun to watch them learn that way, too.”
Though they may not recognize those changes in themselves, others do.
Reese’s mother, Joyce, remarked, “As a parent, I can say that I see my daughter understanding the Mass at a deeper level. When you’re singing the Psalms, the Gloria — they’re involved in paying attention to the parts of the Mass that I don’t think most kids even consider. I’ve seen that personally, with Reese.”
Both the youths and their relatives give credit to Chaffee for “encouraging and building them up.” Chaffee welcomed young parishioners into the role of cantors and helped to develop their talent. But she is insistent that it is the young Catholics who deserve full credit. She sees their influence as a tremendous positive for the parish, bringing their friends into the choir and helping it to grow.
“We’re fortunate that we have what we have, during Covid especially. These kids come in with masks singing; it’s very hard, because you can’t breathe that well. It’s also hard to play violin with a mask.”
Father Donald Davidson, CPPS, took over as pastor of St. Patrick in September and is one of the many members of the parish who is grateful for the lovely music the young people contribute to the liturgy. “I’m just happy we have singers and musicians; it’s really nice. They do a great job. I’m always the lucky one, because I can see them.”
The faith of these young parishioners gives Chaffee hope for the future of the Church and the parish.
“It’s very special to have them,” she commented. “They’re very talented. I’m so fortunate.”
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