by Gordon Nary
Gordon: When did you become choir director at the Catholic Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and what are the music ministries that you direct?
Donal: I started at the Catholic Shrine just before Advent 2012. I serve the parish as Music Minister and Organist. I direct the Shrines 2 Sunday Choirs, the Bell Choir, The Children's Choir, the Shrines Schola and the amazing Shrine Cantors.
Gordon: Approximately how many hours a week do your music ministers practice?
Donal: Great question, that varies from week to week and season to season. The members of the main Shrine Choir rehearsal anywhere from 3 hours per week to 10 depending on what we are rehearsing for. They are a dedicated group who are so inspired by the music they get to share with the community.
Gordon: How is the music for the ministries planned?
Donal: The music is centered around the readings. I feel it is the job of the music ministry to reinforce what is being taught in scripture, to accent the theme of the mass that day and also to help bring to prayer the people who are not only listening at times but also being called to participate.
Gordon: Who are some of you favorite religious music composers?
Donal: I’m a huge fan of Anton Bruckner, Palestrina and Mozart. The contributions that David Haas:has made to liturgical music have really help shape my faith through music. The shape of Tony Alonso’s music really bring me to pray as well.
Gordon: Could you share some memories of Scoil Dara in Kildare, Ireland and how has your life in reland influenced you music?
Donal: Scoil Dara was a great school, however I was the worst student. At the time I wanted to be everywhere else but sitting in class. My musicianship was molded during my time at Scoil Dara by my teachers and their involvement in community organizations. I remember being a first year and my music teacher at the time asked me if Id be interested in helping out in a small country church who needed someone to play the organ for mass on Sunday’s - it turned out to be the church that my father grew up going to and so it held a special place in my families heart. It was a church that dated back to the penal times (1600s-1700’s) and it was a onverted barn that became a church later. The history oozed out of every block and I loved being a part of the community. It was the Church of the Sacred Heart in Rathcoffey which was part of the Parish of Clane, Co. Kildare, the home of Blessed John Sullivan. Growing up in Ireland I was surrounded by music and story telling. I was blessed by being around the arts everyday, as a part of life. The arts became my happy place, my escape and my home. it was the norm and in that, being part of music in church was also the norm. Living far from home now, I realize how fortunate I was to be born into that culture.
Gordon: Could you comment on Pope Francis' statement on that education is key to the renewal of sacred music?
Donal: I was privileged to be in attendance for the conference in Rome when the Holy Father spoke about on how imperative education was to the renewal and rededication of the role of music in liturgy. We must as a universal church be ever mindful of the rich treasury of music we have at our disposal from the great composers in the time of Bach and Mozart, to post Vatican II composers like the St. Louis Jesuits and on to the fine composers being published today. We must remember the people in the pews. we must ask ourselves as music ministers, how can I help people come to God? how can I help a congregation come to prayer? Those are the questions that need to be the primary motivators for music ministers and clergy. I feel that is where the Pope was going. We need to educate liturgical ministers to meet the need of the faithful in today's church Those who need chant, those who need praise and worship and those who need classic hymnody to bring them mentally and emotionally to worship.
Gordon: You also serve as Executive Director ot Atlanta Homeward Choir which you founded. What inspired you to organizes the choir and what were some of your most memorable experiences?
Donal: When I began working at the Shrine I was struck by the sheer number of homeless men and women on the streets of Downtown Atlanta. I felt the need to help them in some small way. I formed the choir as vessel to put a smile on the face of people who’s day was filled with nothing but solitude. I knew how much community lifted me, so i needed to bring that to them. So music was that vessel. We have been going now for 4 years and it has been great. The Choir has sung all over Atlanta and beyond. In 2015 we were invited to sing at the White House in Washington DC. That was a game changer for the men. That performance helped get that group off the street and into jobs and homes. It was an experience that I will hold in my heart for a very long time.
Gordon: What advice would you give to homeless organizations who may be interested In forming a homeless choir?
Donal: Do it. This project changed my life and the life of so many people. Get a good group around you and do it. I would be happy to talk to anyone who is thinking about it. I have spoken to people from all over the world who have felt the need to start a choir in their own cities and towns. No one has regretted it. Do it. Contact me from our website
Gordon: Thank you for a great interview and sharing you insights into and commitment to sacred music and the homeless.