National News

Black, Hispanic Catholic Choirs in Baltimore Promote ‘Unity and Joy’

The Archdiocese of Baltimore Black Catholic Mass Choir at the debut performance on Nov. 28, 2023. (Credit: The Catholic Review.)

PROSPECT HEIGHTS — When Joseph Oden performs in parish choirs, he says he lets the spirit move him — sometimes he’ll cry, sometimes he’ll dance. Other times, like at the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s Black Catholic Mass choir debut last week, he’s just filled with “a lot of joy.”

“It was just a lot of joy,” Oden told The Tablet of the debut. “It was just a really nice, really nice, experience.”

“Joy” was a prevailing word from others in and around the choir when asked about the debut. The 26-person chorale — bringing together sopranos, tenors, and baritones from across the archdiocese — debuted at a Mass on Nov. 28. Dressed in all black, they sang songs from the African American heritage hymnal, accompanied by a keyboard, percussion, and of course, those in the pews.

“Unity” was another word those in the choir’s orbit used to describe its  impact, as it brought together both singers and congregants from different parish communities.

“I think oftentimes within the archdiocese we feel as though we are individuals, but I think that this choir reminds us that we are not individuals, but we are alike in spirit, and this choir kind of brings on that unity that we can express in those African American cultures,” Deitrick Goodwin, the director of the Black Catholic Mass Choir, told The Tablet. 

“We can come together and use our styles as a medium of worship,” Goodwin said.

The experience the Black Catholic Mass Choir had at its debut was  expected to replicate itself on Dec. 9 — in terms of the joy and bringing together a community — when the Hispanic/Latino Archdiocesan Choir made its debut at the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s Our Lady of Guadalupe Mass.

With that performance, and that of the Black Catholic Mass Choir, the archdiocese in less than two weeks will have debuted two specialty ensembles representing prominent communities within the archdiocese, which has been billed as “emphasizing unity among Catholics and celebration of the Church’s rich diversity.”

The Archdiocese of Baltimore has one of the largest Black Catholic populations in the country, according to U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops data. It’s unclear if the same is true for the Hispanic/Latino Catholic population. However, Baltimore and the state of Maryland in general has seen a significant increase in Hispanic/Latino residents in recent years.

Both the Black Catholic Mass Choir and the Hispanic/Latino Archdiocesan Choir were created at the initiative of the Black Catholic ministry and Hispanic ministry in the archdiocese. Each director cited unity within their communities and the archdiocese as a reason why.

Adrienne Curry, the director of the Office of Black Catholic Ministries in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, told The Tablet that when she began her role a little more than a year ago, one of the first things she decided was that the Black Catholic community needed a choir. Curry said part of her inspiration was the Mass choir in the Archdiocese of New Orleans, which got together in the ’90s and still performs to this day.

“Music has always been important in the Black Catholic community, and so to have a dedicated choir that can sing all kinds of music, it brings joy to the congregation,” Curry said. “People were really moved on Tuesday. A good song will move you deep down in your soul and bring tears to your eyes.”

Lia Garcia, the director of Hispanic Ministry in the archdiocese, said she has dreamt of the creation of a Hispanic/Latino choir for years, but her desire was slowed by the pandemic. She revived the idea this summer, and after finding a choir director, her dream was realized.

With the archdiocese in the midst of a two-year parish consolidation process in the city of Baltimore and surrounding areas, Garcia said the choir reminds parishioners that regardless of what parish they belong to they are all a part of a unified faith community.

“I think with what’s happening in the city of Baltimore, the restructuring, this initiative that Archbishop [William] Lori has taken on, and is being led by Bishop Bruce [Lewandowski], more and more we’re seeing that our parishes are actually shared spaces between many people of many cultures, and music is actually a way that brings people together,” Garcia told The Tablet. 

“And I think these are efforts that really should be replicated where different people from different walks of life with different talents, with different gifts, can come together and celebrate their faith and, you know, who doesn’t like music?” Garcia continued. “It’s just a beautiful thing that people could do to put at the service of our church.”

Going into its debut performance, the Hispanic/Latino Archdiocesan Choir has 19 members. Melvin Alvarado, the choir’s director, told The Tablet through a translator that he hopes the choir helps those at the Mass, and in the choir itself, grow their faith.

“I hope we give our best and that everything rehearsed turns out well,” Garcia said. “Through songs, we encourage the people to participate in singing and lead them to meditate more deeply on the Word of God and worship Him in the Eucharist.

“May music enrich this celebration so that devotion to the Virgin Mary grows,” Garcia continued. “And finally, I hope that, with this opportunity to sing in the cathedral, the choir members come away motivated and give themselves more to God through this service.”