Last updateFri, 18 Mar 2016 5pm

Musical combo marks first year at Guadalajara parish

This Easter Sunday, English speakers attending St. John Chrysostom (San Juan Crisóstomo) Roman Catholic church are celebrating an anniversary.

For many years the worshippers enjoyed the a cappella singing of the group Cantabile, founded by American John Brown when the singers were young children. But in 2014, due to family demands on its principals, who were by then adults, the ten-member group disbanded. Luckily, Cantabile was seamlessly replaced.

“I sang with Cantabile beginning in 2004,” said soprano Ameli Guerra. “Before that, I was singing semi-professionally in two choirs and I started coming to the English Mass at Saint John’s and singing informally behind Cantabile. Then its director asked me to join them formally. So I sang with Cantabile for many years.”

When they broke up, Guerra bravely stayed on, singing a cappella at Mass each Sunday in the medium-size church.

“I love singing but I was scared to death,” she admits. “It was so lonely and quiet. When you sing with a group, there are other people to mask your mistakes.”

As Easter 2015 approached, Guerra knew that her solo voice was not sufficient for such a festive occasion.

“It wasn’t enough for a big holiday, so luckily I found an organ player, baritone and director all in one — Felipe Valdivia. He also has three daughters who come with him — Lucia, Laura and Lillian, who play the oboe, clarinet and violin. So Felipe is a musical phenomena.

“We first played together that Easter and people loved it, so they rallied to get us permanently.”

Father Miguel Sención, who speaks English and says the 11 a.m. Mass at San Juan Crisóstomo every Sunday, noted that the size of the church is good for the group, who perform unaided by microphones.

“Their music is very nice and I like that we have instruments now,” he said, noting that the worshippers comprise 20 to 35 people originally from India, the United States and Canada.

“We do the English Mass every week and we also have confessions, baptisms and first communions in English. Some people even come because they are trying to learn English,” he added.

Since they teamed up a year ago, Guerra and Valdivia have taken up singing the ordinarium — the parts of the Mass, such as the Kyrie, that don’t change — using the Celtic or Heritage versions. Guerra noted that Sención loves to sing and joins in, but said that people in the congregation generally do not sing along with the group.

As for the other music played during Mass, Guerra said that they use English hymns from many Christian traditions.

“We may sing old favorites such as ‘Amazing Grace’ or ‘Here I am, Lord.’ We include different Christian traditions and pair up the music with the day’s bible readings. We don’t sing much classical music,” she added.

“I do this as a volunteer because I love to sing,” she added. “Felipe gets paid a little because he and the girls travel a long distance, all the way from Tlaquepaque. He does so much — he plays the organ, sings baritone and directs. He and I both speak English well. In fact, he is an English teacher!” she added.

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