by Alex Z. Salinas (B.A. ’11, M.A. ’19)
Since 2007, more than 100 students at St. Mary’s University have sung their hearts out for the masses as proud participants of Chapel Choir.
The group, led by Maria Smith, Minister for Pastoral Music and Faith Formation for University Ministry, is traditionally heard during Sunday Mass in Guadalupe Chapel.
But due to the pandemic, the group’s in-person gatherings have been temporarily suspended.
“The overwhelming response from the members was a deep sadness,” Smith said. “Our rehearsals have always been more than just learning and preparing music. It’s been about building community, fostering meaningful relationships and creating memories.”
Nonetheless, in the spirit of the University’s call for adaption and change, Chapel Choir looked to technology so they could continue sharing their music — and goodwill — during difficult times.
With technical assistance from Associate Professor of Communications Brother Dennis Bautista, S.M., Ph.D. — who’s lent his piano-playing talents to Chapel Choir since 2008 — the group, since April, has released on YouTube four video performances, which include guest appearances of multiple St. Mary’s alumni.
Erica Gonzalez (B.A. ’11, M.P.A. ’12), who joined Chapel Choir in its inaugural year in Fall 2007, called it “the quiet and hidden therapy no one talks about.”
“Since the pandemic, the virtual collaborations have allowed current students and alumni to come together and find some normalcy amid the madness,” Gonzalez said.
As a student, Karl Wacker (B.B.A. ’15) devoted three years to Chapel Choir, saying “it has had a large impact on who I am as a person.”
“I will still spontaneously start singing some of the hymns through my day-to-day life,” he said. “The Chapel Choir also sang at my wedding in 2016, which is something I’ll be forever grateful for.”
Valeria Garza (B.S. ’18), who studied Industrial Engineering, said she was “immediately drawn” to Chapel Choir after hearing them sing at the annual Mass of the Holy Spirit, or the opening liturgy to usher in a new academic year at St. Mary’s.
“Being in the choir reinforced the family values I grew up with, such as hospitality and perseverance, and it cultivated my capacity for authentic relationships with others,” Garza said. “These experiences taught me to become confident in myself and develop the gifts I can offer to a community, which has been invaluable as I’ve grown into my professional role as a software engineer at USAA.”
Smith is pleased her group has “pivoted” by conducting rehearsals over Zoom, in turn allowing them to produce digital content.
“When we decided to record the first piece, the Marianist Doxology, past and present choir members wanted to be a part of it,” Smith said. “Everyone was feeling the loss of being able to make music together in person and so Brother Dennis and I felt compelled to create a way to maintain what the Chapel Choir has been known for throughout the years: community.”
Bautista said more collaborations are forthcoming.
“For many, this provides them peace, healing and a sense of still being connected to each other even as many are spread out across the country,” he said. “As a Marianist community, we adapt our work according to the needs of time and place.”
Check out the video below to watch Chapel Choir’s YouTube performance of Mary’s Lullaby.