LIU student helps at three local parishes
BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — At the Black History Month Mass on Feb. 9 at Our Lady of Victory Church in Bedford-Stuyvesant, the pews were filled with faithful who rose to clap or raise their hands when a soulful hymn was sung by the choir. Jeremy Laguerre sat at the end of the pew in the choir section of the church.
His ensemble of all-black attire matched the uniforms of his fellow choir members. Except at one point, Laguerre stood up and went to the piano to play the instrument. Watching the young man seamlessly follow the liturgy of the Mass, an observer probably wouldn’t realize that Laguerre is a self-taught musician.
As a first-generation Haitian/Mauritian-American, Laguerre knew choosing a career that wasn’t going to lead him to medicine or business might raise some eyebrows in his family. And even though he had expressed interest in robotics and engineering, his natural proficiency in mathematics and connecting parts together pointed to his true vocation: leading others to Christ through sound and songs as a church music director.
Now Laguerre is the music director at Holy Innocents Church in East Flatbush and youth choir director at St. Clare’s Church in Rosedale. He also helps at Our Lady of Victory.
Last November, the month he turned 21, Laguerre performed at Carnegie Hall after he auditioned by singing a part from Handel’s “Messiah.”
Of course, Laguerre has faced many obstacles along the way.
His first challenge came during the spring semester of his senior year of high school at Queens Preparatory Academy in Springfield Gardens, when Laguerre had to teach himself how to play instruments. He would look up YouTube videos and practice piano for about five to six hours a day.
He auditioned for the music program at Long Island University Brooklyn. He was accepted, and four years later, he’s on the cusp of receiving a bachelor’s degree in applied music.
“I just knew it was what I wanted to do,” Laguerre said on a recent drizzly Monday afternoon in Bedford-Stuyvesant.
He’s applying his experience and education in music to church ministry. Saying no to the needs of the church isn’t in his DNA. Even if he is under the weather or not at 100 percent, he commutes between Brooklyn and Queens for his many church duties, from preparing for a liturgy at Holy Innocents to helping with a parish brunch at St. Clare’s to assisting parish staff at Our Lady of Victory.
Last year before Easter, he was approached about leading the music ministry at Holy Innocents.
Laguerre had to overcome fears of inadequacy, but at the same time, he was prepared to showcase his musical skills that he had been honing for years.
The challenge, Father Charles Borno, the pastor, said, was that Laguerre needed to fill in as music director for the high point in the church calendar, Easter Sunday.
“It was a blessing unto itself because I didn’t know that I would get a musician that would be able to carry all the challenges that we would have,” Father Borno said. “I think he brings something very special to the Mass and there’s still a lot of challenges to overcome.”
At present, Laguerre is balancing being a full-time working member of the church with his classes at LIU Brooklyn.
The drive for Laguerre to center his life around music and the church started when he was in his early teens and was a member of the youth group at St. Clare’s.
Even back then, he was drawn to ministry because he felt the most comfortable in a church setting.
He’s also passionate about incorporating traditional liturgical music into the youth choir at St. Clare’s. He hopes that the youth will appreciate that aspect of the Mass.
“They think church music is just Gospel, getting up and clapping your hands, but there’s a different side to this that your parents grew up with,” Laguerre said.
“I think it’s important that they should be exposed to that to at least experience what it was like back then,” he said.
“Even something as simple as the Kyrie or the Agnus Dei — they should know. It’s important for them to know.”