Kimberley Peschi, church cantor at Our Lady of Sorrows church in Linwood, anticipates more than just additional parishioners in the pews for Mass today.
Seven orchestral instrumentalists will join the 23-voice choir to perform songs such as “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today” for the service that celebrates Jesus Christ’s resurrection after his crucifixion.
“I think it’s awe inspiring,” said Peschi, of Galloway Township. “There are not a lot of people who will go and see classical musicians perform. So for them to be able to turn around and see a tympani player play, or experience live music that’s not just a rock concert, I think it’s a great experience. It’s uplifting. It’s encouraging.“
Easter is the holiest day on the Christian calendar. It’s also a day that sees attendance at church services swell to annual highs. This dictates that churches do something extra in celebration. That can translate into more musicians, additional songs or different music.
For the singers and musicians who perform during these services, the pressure is on.
“Often times, you have a lot of people come only on Christmas and Easter. It’s more challenging music. You want to do a really good job and help make the liturgy meaningful to the congregation,” said Stephen Beddia, the Our Lady of Sorrows organist, music director and choir director.
Eric Dolch, 19, is the director of music and the principal organist for St. Nicholas of Tolentine Roman Catholic Church in Atlantic City. The church is paying 12 student singers from Westminster Choir College in Princeton, Mercer County, to supplement its eight-member choir. Dolch has been busy preparing for these musically demanding services. Still, the New Gretna resident expects he’ll feel some stage fright when he sits at the bench and prepares to perform.
“Right from the moment I walk in, I’m kind of jittery and just want it to get over with. At one point, I will always step back right before we start something crazy and say to myself, ‘Soli Deo gloria,’ which means Glory to God alone,” Dolch said.
Dolch calms himself by saying whatever happens on Easter musically is the way God wanted it.
“Every year, faithfully, you get through Holy Week so stressed out, and you finish that last Mass on Easter Sunday, and you just sit back and say, ‘Well, that was absolutely magnificent.’ It’s always the pre-Mass jitters, and then you get through and it’s like wonderful, wonderful relief,” Dolch said.
Dolch will not be the only church musician in Atlantic City pushing the envelope for Easter services.
The Rev. Collins A. Days Sr., of the Second Baptist Church in Atlantic City, said his choir normally does something special on Easter.
“The music tells the gospel story as well as the Easter message. When it comes to the African-American church, music is a tremendous part of the worship experience,” Days said. “John the Baptist was the forerunner of Christ, and good gospel music is a forerunner of preaching.”
Thomas Jennings, the church’s minister of music, determines what’s played on Easter. It’s an important job, as music really makes the atmosphere that of worship, Days said.
“It helps to further emphasize the story of the true meaning of the sacrifice of Christ,” Days said. “It’s a way for everybody in the congregation to participate in worship, because all of them can participate by the singing the songs.”
The Rev. William Williams III, pastor of Asbury United Methodist Church, in Atlantic City, knows how music can affect a church service. When the music is done right, it gets a congregation excited, energized and in the spirit, he said.
“It gets us to the point where we want to stand up, clap and praise the Lord,” said Williams, who has been the pastor for the past nine months.
Throughout the season of Lent, Williams has had the choir sing one song each Sunday, so it would be prepared for a 15-minute praise-and-worship session to start the 10 a.m. Easter Sunday service today. This is new this year, and “How Great Thou Art” is one of the songs the choir performs particularly well, Williams said.
Tyrone “The Maestro” Harris is the minister of music at Asbury United Methodist Church. June 2 will mark his 20th anniversary in the position.
Harris’ tenure gives him a deep reservoir of songs to choose for the choir and the congregation to sing on Easter. They include the hymns “Because He Lives,” “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” “Holy, Holy, Holy” and “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name.”
Harris tries to make the Easter musical performance more special because of the day itself and not because there are more people in the church. While as many as 60 people may attend a regular Sunday service, the Atlantic City man expects more than 100 worshippers to fill the church today.
“A lot of people who don’t go to church, they show up on Christmas and Easter,” Harris said.
Pastor Brendon Wilson of New Covenant Community Church in Somers Points hopes to attract a total of 500 worshippers to the church’s two services.
At New Covenant, the hymns are accompanied by a band that includes electric guitars, bass and drums. But while the presentation will be modern, the message in the music will be traditional.
“Music prepares people for the message that Jesus Christ has risen and gives them the opportunity to hear a message of grace, purpose and destiny,” Wilson said. “Music and media bypasses the intellect and goes straight to the heart.”
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