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Benedictine Children’s Chorus

Transformation, Collaboration, and a Bright Future

Published on 8.2.17 by Jeremy Kiolbassa & Hannah Stapleton

This Sunday’s Gospel tells us the familiar story of Jesus’ Transfiguration. In Matthew’s account, Jesus transforms from his human form into a bright, shining figure, his clothes as white as light. Whether it be bread and wine in the Eucharist, the changing of the seasons, or simply making a positive change to better oneself, transformation is a necessary part of our lives. In order to grow, we must change. We cannot move forward by standing still, nor can we expect to succeed if we don’t adapt to the world around us. It is fitting that today’s Gospel speaks of change, as one of our parish choirs is about to undergo a transformation all it’s own. We are excited to announce the formation of a new group: The Benedictine Children’s Chorus. This choir will be made up of young musicians in grades 3-5, and will take the place of our parish children’s choir. Here is an overview of some of the changes that will define the future of this choir.

Our Mission

The Benedictine Children’s Chorus strives to develop and strengthen the vocal talent of our elementary students, to serve the church, and to glorify God in song. We aim to create a professional-level children's program that grants a high quality musical experience to our children.

Service Through Musical Excellence

The chorus will serve our community in numerous ways. We will provide music for Sunday Mass once a month, as well as weekly school Masses. We will participate in regional and nation children’s choir festivals, including the Pueri Cantores national federation for catholic children's choirs. We explore a wide range of repertoire from antiquity to the present day.

Rehearsal time change

One of the pieces of feedback that we have received consistently over that past few years is that the rehearsal time (Monday at 4pm) was inconvenient for a myriad of reasons. The children’s chorus will now meet before school at 7:15am every Monday. We will rehearse until 8:30am, then the children will be dismissed to their classes after Mass. We feel that this will better accommodate the schedules of our elementary school families while simultaneously eliminating conflicts with countless other after-school clubs and activities.

Collaboration Between School & Parish Staff

The children’s chorus will now be co-directed by Hannah Stapleton and Jeremy Kiolbassa. We have already been working closely over the past year, and this collaboration just makes sense on so many levels. It is our hope that our shared talent and musical knowledge will allow our children’s choir to grow, and that we can create a powerful educational experience for our children. It is our vision to make this ensemble something much more than a “typical” children’s choir. We want to get beyond just making the kids sing, and to start to form them into real musicians. We will achieve this by building on the music education they already receive in their classroom and continuing to develop their musicianship through literacy and repertoire. In other words, they won’t just learn to sing, they’ll learn to think like musicians.  

How Can My Child Participate?

There are 30 spots available during our pilot year. Choir members must be enrolled in grades 3-5 at St. Benedict Preparatory School. There is a one-time fee of $75 that will help cover the cost of sheet music, festival registration, and a t-shirt for the year. Registration will be done on a first-come-first serve basis. There is no formal audition, but all potential choristers should have a love for singing and a desire to learn. We will host a meet and greet on August 21st during our school open house.

We are so excited to embark on this next chapter in our musical life here at St. Benedict Parish & Preparatory School. All of the music faculty and staff have been working very hard over the past several years to create and excellent program and pave the way for this next step in our journey. Please keep us in your prayers as we continue to move forward and grow together!

Registration for this year's children's chorus is now closed..

Jeremy Kiolbassa & Hannah Stapleton

Adult Choir: Growth, Success, and Looking Ahead

Published on 5.7.17 by Jeremy Kiolbassa

Today’s Psalm, second reading, and Gospel paint a familiar picture, that of Jesus the Good Shepherd. The most familiar mention of Jesus in this way is probably the parable of the lost sheep, found in Luke’s Gospel. After rescuing the one lost sheep, Jesus says “…there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” (Luke 15:7) Today’s Gospel according to John once again has Jesus using the image of a Shepherd and his flock. Jesus likens his Father to the shepherd, and himself to the gatekeeper that guards the gate through which all sheep must enter the fold. Again, a familiar concept that will be mentioned again, later, in John’s Gospel when Jesus says "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) These images, like many others that Jesus gives us throughout the Gospels, in essence, say the same thing: Jesus is the one and only way to our salvation. This image has stayed with me since I was about 17. At that time, I was the organist at Good Shepherd Parish on Chicago’s south side. It is a comforting image, and I like to think it has shaped my faith through the years.

                I want to take the rest of my time this week to highlight the hard work that has been happening in our parish Adult Choir. In case you aren’t familiar, the Adult Choir sings almost every Sunday at our 9am Sunday Mass as well as all major holidays and celebrations at the parish. When I started hear about four years ago (yes it has been that long, I checked) our choir was a small but dedicated group, mostly made up of long-time members. On a good day we had 8-10 members. For various reasons many had left the choir, and there were Sundays that only a handful of folks showed up. The few new members that joined often didn’t stay, and morale was pretty low overall. This was especially hard for those who had joined back when the choir was thriving. Those who have been in the parish a while might remember that the choir even did a performance tour in Rome back in 1992.  

Since Fall 2013, and especially over the past two years, we have focused our energy and resources on building this group and making it thrive once again. Last year I tasked my former associate director, Johnathan Metzinger, with one primary task, to lead and grow our adult choir. During our 2015-16 season he was able to focus solely on working this group and giving them the TLC that they needed and deserved while allowing me to focus on our fledgling teen groups, cantors, and the music program as a whole.  When Jonathan accepted his new full-time position at St. Francis Xavier in Wilmette, he had already laid the ground work for what was to come. I am forever grateful for his help during his brief time with us.

                As the current season winds down, one words comes to mind: “Wow”. If you have heard our choir, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. The growth we have experienced this year is just astonishing. More than half of our current members are new this year, and approximately two out of three of our members joined within the past two years. We have done more new choral music over the past 8 months than in my entire time here at St. Ben’s. Not only does our choir sound great, but they are TONS of fun. I can honestly say that working with our Adult Choir is thing I most look forward to each week! I want to especially thank our long-time members that have stuck with it for all these years: Ann Ryan, Anna Marie Crocco, Linda Fisher, Daisy Schmookler, Bernadette Libao, and Jeanette Heiner. Your years of service and dedication are priceless. I also want to recognize two ‘newer’ members who, by their welcoming and joyous disposition, have helped to foster friendship and a sense of community in our choir: Rosemary Meagher and Collins Hunter. THANK YOU!

                Looking ahead to next year, we are hoping to keep this momentum going. We will need volunteers of all skills and abilities to continue to create prayerful and excellent music. I am especially looking forward to our annual Fall piano concert and our Christmas Concert Gala. This December will be my fifth Christmas concert since becoming your music director. We have a wonderful program planned for you that will feature beloved Christmas music as well as Mozart’s Mass in C Major K. 317 “Coronation Mass”, one of my all-time favorite choral-orchestral works. We are even planning another international choir trip in 2018. More details coming soon! 

                I am sharing all of this with you in hopes that you might be inspired to join our music ministry. Dedicated volunteers like those mentioned above are what drive our program. Without them, my job would be almost impossible. I humbly ask that you consider trying out Adult choir, or any of our groups for that matter. Whether you are a professional musician or have no experience whatsoever, give us a try. I remember the first time I sang in a choir like it was yesterday. I was 16 years old, and though I had played the piano for some time, I had never even thought about singing. A friend of mine invited me to join a community chorus, so I did, and the experience changed my life. Though I had no idea what I was doing, I got lost in the sound of the chorus. To be in the center of all that sound and harmony was truly transcendent, and I have been hooked ever since. That's the thing about choir, it can seem kind of intimidating to get involved, but once you have, it becomes a part of who you are forever.

                If you are reading this on Sunday, I am already on my way to Minnesota with a group of our St. Ben’s high school students. Please pray for us as we embark on a service trip to and Indian reservation in Red Lake, MN. I will have limited access to emails over the next week, but I encourage you to drop me a line if you feel like you might want to give our choir a try, or if you have any questions at all.

May God Bless you in the Easter Season!

Jeremy Kiolbassa


Living the Beatitudes Through Music

Published on 1.29.17 by Jeremy Kiolbassa

Today’s Gospel is one of the most iconic instances of Jesus’s message of salvation to his followers, the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus teaches the gathered crowds that salvation doesn’t come from vanity or selfish pursuits, but from humility and even suffering. He points out many groups: the mourners, meek, hungry, peacemakers, persecuted… all groups to which society is often unkind… and calls each one of them blessed. Further, he tells them “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.” In today’s society it is challenging to embrace the attitudes and qualities listed in today’s Gospel. We must constantly ask ourselves “do my words and actions really further God’s kingdom?” If we use the examples in today’s Gospel, the beatitudes, we can certainly come closer.

For musicians, it can be challenging to live by the beatitudes. Some might even argue that being too meek and humble can be a detriment to a good performer. I must admit have struggled with exactly how to approach this. As musicians, our training tells us that we must command the stage, and most of us thrive on the attention and applause that comes with performing. We refine our skills in order to attain these acclamations, and theoretically the better we get the more we are recognized and lauded. How then can we live humble lives when the very nature of what we do seemingly demands the opposite? I think the answer lies establishing intent, spirituality, and separating humility from skill. As Christians we are called to live our lives according to the Gospel and to dedicate everything we do to God. As a musician, if I keep this at the forefront of my mind, even if my craft demands a certain amount of confidence, I can be humble in knowing that music, like all things, is only possible through God. I can be a humble and still work to perfect my skills so long as God is present in all that I do. I’m sure you may face some of the same challenges in your own lives. Whether it be in home life or career, it might seem a bit counterintuitive to live poor and humble lives as the Gospel demands. But, if we keep God at the center of our minds and intent, we can be both successful and humble in all that we do.

It is our goal as music ministers to humbly serve God and to enhance the liturgy from week to week. We have been especially blest this year with tremendous growth in our adult choir. Over the course of a few months the choir has almost tripled in size. If we continue to grow we might run out of seats, which is one of the best problems imaginable. We are blessed with what are in my opinion some of the best cantors in the city, all volunteers, that lead us in sung prayer at Mass. We are blessed with so many young musicians in our youth choirs, school band and orchestra that make both our school and weekend liturgies so vibrant each week. We are blessed with an energetic Sunday evening ensemble, lead by my associate Matt Herek. Each one of these groups is unique and important to our overall vision for our music ministry. As you reflect on the ways we continue to include God your life, consider making music part of your prayer and spirituality. This might mean becoming a member of one of our ensembles, or simply picking up a hymnal and singing at Mass. As today’s communion song tells us: “Rejoice and be glad! Yours is the kingdom of God!”

We Are Many Parts, All One Music Ministry

Published on 8.3.16 by Jeremy Kiolbassa

It’s hard to believe it is August already, and if you’re like me, you might be asking yourself “Where has the summer gone?!” For our parish music ministry, summer is a seemingly quiet time. Most of our choirs don’t’ meet, and without school or RE in session, this big campus can seem like a ghost town during the week. For those of us that work here, it is a time for planning, organizing, and a much needed break from the hustle and bustle of our active and vibrant parish & school. It is also a time to reflect on the successes of the previous year, as well as to envision what we might accomplish together in the coming months. In our music ministry, we enjoyed a great year, and it is my hope that we can build on the foundations we have laid and continue to pray and sing well together.

 Last year we added two brand new teen ensembles to our ranks. Bass Winds & Fire, our teen instrumental ensemble came first, followed shortly by our teen vocal group, The Tone Rangers. As their playful names might suggest, both groups are made up of joyful young people in grades 6-12. Both groups helped us to pray and sing at our Sunday morning Masses and are currently at our 6:30pm evening Mass for the summer. We have a solid core group, but we could still use some additional voices and instruments in both ensembles.

 Our Adult Choir, though not new, also had great success this year. With the help of our associate director, Jonathan Metzinger, they helped our 9am Mass to pray and sing almost every week. In addition, they helped us pray through Christmas and Holy Week, not to mention two large concerts! In addition to their passion for music, our choir is a fun, friendly, and diverse group of folks. Their first role of course is to help us pray and make music, but I’d dare to say a second is cracking jokes and having a good time. Did you know that for their end of year party they did a roast of our directors?! I know it might seem intimidating to join choir, but I guarantee that after the first rehearsal you’ll be hooked. Now that Jonathan has moved on to his new role as music director at St. Francis Xavier in Wilmette, I will be directing the adult choir once again. I am so looking forward to the great music that we will make in the upcoming season, and all of the fun we’ll have together along the way.

 It was actually two years ago that we were blessed with the donation of a brand new concert grand piano. This beautiful instrument has helped make our liturgies beautiful and our song prayerful. It has also allowed our concert series to reach a new level, both in quality and scale. On September 18th at 3pm, we will hold our third annual fall piano recital. This year we will augment the performance with additional instruments to showcase our beautiful sacred space and acoustics. There is no charge for this event, but donations will be accepted. There is a complimentary reception directly following the performance. If you have never attended one of our concerts, or have not attended in some years, I highly recommend it! Look for more details in the bulletin in coming weeks.

 I also want to highlight a new monthly prayer opportunity, Taize Prayer. If you have no idea what this is, don’t worry, I didn’t either until a few years ago! This form of prayer comes from Taize, a town in France, and was started shortly after World War II. Amidst the turmoil, a small group of Christians came together and prayed using simple, repeated melodies, and silent reflection to hear the voice of God. Today, our Taize prayer is just that, a combination of quiet reflective music, silence, and scripture. All of this takes place in a darkened church by candlelight, and icons are placed around the church to create an atmosphere that is calm and contemplative. You can choose to sing along with the simple, repeated songs, or just sit and pray silently or meditate. It truly is a great way to end a hectic week. Taize takes place every first Friday at 7:30pm in church.

 Last, I just want to thank you for your generous support of our music ministry. Since I joined the St. Benedict staff in 2013, we have accomplished so much together. With music and fine arts programs being cut around the country, it is so inspiring to have such a supportive community and to work with such a talented group of volunteers every day. I want a leave you with a request. I ask that you consider becoming part of our music ministry in some small way. That can mean any number of things, from joining one of our choirs, to attending a concert, to making a donation, to even something as simple as picking up your hymnal at Mass and singing, even if you don’t have a great voice. Music, as part of worship, is a community effort, and it only works if there is strong support from the community. Let’s work together this year and see what we can accomplish!