A cantata in Coralville


By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

CORALVILLE — More than 70 singers, a full orchestra and the speaking voice of Father Stephen Page will blend together to perform an Advent Cantata Concert at St. Thomas More Parish Dec. 5.
“It’s something to call everyone together for one amazing event,” said parish music director Judy Duncan.

Michael Jesse
Singers perform at St. Thomas More Parish’s Contata Concert in 2013 in Coralville.

The concert, now in its third year, is free to the public and begins at 7 p.m. at the church.

A cantata is a narrated concert that utilizes strings, woodwinds, brass instruments and a choir, Duncan said. Parish pastor Fr. Page will narrate, starting the concert by reading the Advent story while the woodwind, brass and string orchestra plays quietly in the background. Between stories, the choir of about 70 people will come in and sing a song relating to the previous story.


Duncan explained that St. Thomas More is able to put on such a concert due to the large number of professional and amateur musicians in the parish. Generally, at least 15 parish musicians are on hand for each weekend Mass, sometimes overflowing the space available. She said the parish attracts students and faculty from nearby University of Iowa, many of whom either sing or play musical instruments.

She added that one of her favorite elements of the event is that musicians from the three weekend Masses have an opportunity to come together and get to know each other. “Some people come at 5:15 p.m. Saturday but might not know people who sing (or play) at 11 a.m. Sunday. When you do an event like this, everyone gets to know each other. It’s a community builder.”

She admitted that getting more than 100 people together to rehearse can be challenging since “people are really busy.” The group had the first of its three rehearsals in early November.

For this reason, she encourages musicians to practice at home. “People can commit to doing this because they can rehearse on their own,” she said.

While the ability to read and practice from sheet music is a must for the instrumental musicians, Duncan said the ability to read music is not a requirement for those who wish to sing. To help the singers practice at home without sheet music, she puts the songs in MP3 form and compact disks so singers can follow along and practice at home.

The concert has taken place closer to Christmas in previous years, but snowstorms kept some people away, Duncan said. She hopes the earlier date will decrease the possibility of snowy weather the night of the concert and increase attendance.

Duncan said she looks forward to the performance, and seeing the parish musicians combine their talents in a large ensemble. “We have a very active music ministry here. … They’re so fantastic week to week.”



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