Parish choir members raise voices, funds for elderly in need

By Dave Jolivet, Anchor Editor

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EAST FREETOWN, Mass. — It’s a widely believed concept that music can help soothe and heal — from babies within the womb to elderly patients struggling with Alzheimer’s disease.

At St. John Neumann Parish in East Freetown, the greatly talented choir has taken music’s helping powers a step further. The choir, under the direction of Linda Johnston, and with the blessings and support of pastor Father Gregory A. Mathias, recently released a CD of uplifting and inspiring music of praise, with the profits benefiting elderly patients who cannot meet insurance co-payments or pay for prescriptions.

Titled, “Voices Raised for Healthcare,” the CD contains 10 recordings by the choir and made its debut shortly before Christmas at the East Freetown church.

“This project has been nearly a year in the making,” Johnston told The Anchor. “This has always been a very good choir. Before me, Dan Davey and George Campeau put together and maintained a choir with very talented people in this parish, and it continues today.”

Johnston said the idea for the CD and its purpose came about at a choir meeting. “We were talking about healthcare and the costs and how some simply cannot afford it,” said Johnston. “It’s a great burden for some and we felt as Christians we should be caring and helping those with such a basic need.

“The choir members are people of great faith and want to put that faith into action. As musicians we wanted to do something more than just sound good. We wanted to keep our ministry about doing God’s will, and the idea of raising funds to help elderly patients was born.”

“Our choir is such a thoughtful and dedicated group,” Father Mathias told The Anchor. “They wanted to do something to bring attention to the struggles many are having with medical expenses and, perhaps, to dedicate proceeds from CD sales to help people in this regard.”

The process was long and a learning process for the choir members. Karen Howard and others went about the arduous task of collecting the proper licensing and copyrights. “None of us knew how to do this when we started,” Howard told The Anchor. “If we ever do it again, we’re all set. We needed permission for every song on the CD and the costs were based on the number of CDs that would be produced, in this case 500.”

“Choir member Dan Couet played a big part in selecting the music that we would record,” said Johnston. “Dan knows a great deal about praise music, and everyone was on board with the project.”

Learning as they went, the choir recorded one version of the CD, but wasn’t pleased with the results. “We found Ron Poitras, a parishioner, and he did an incredible job with the mixing and production,” said Howard. “Ron provided us with his expertise and studio, and he did it all at no cost,” added Johnston. “He was so helpful and a wealth of knowledge. He taught us how to prepare and how to record.

“His studio wasn’t big enough for the entire 20 or so members at one time, so we recorded by voice parts: the sopranos, the altos and the baritones,” said Johnton. “I never did that before, but it came out great. We were all very pleased with the finished product.”

The choir members weren’t the only ones who were pleased with the recording. Sales at the church before and after Masses has been brisk, with many folks purchasing a copy for Christmas gifts.

Johnston provided the keyboards and “string” sounds on the CD and Brendan Troland, a talented young percussionist in the parish provided the beat. “Everyone worked together so well,” said Johnston.

“And,” she added, “Father Mathias has been wonderfully supportive. He trusted us to find our way and gave us the freedom to do so. His personality helps people be creative.”

Howard told The Anchor that Arlene McNamee, director of the diocesan Catholic Social Services has also been helpful and supportive, as has Father Rodney Thibault, pastor of St. Mary’s Parish in South Dartmouth. “His Social Concerns Committee did something unique in terms of social services, too,” said Howard. 

She added, “We will start interviewing seniors before the month is out, probably starting with the local Freetown Council on Aging to see who might need this service, and the plan is to start small covering prescription co-pays to see what the need is and how our resources can match them.”

Howard also noted that while  the choir takes their music seriously, it is a fun group of people who like being together and “care passionately not only about music, but about each other.” The blend of camaraderie, musical talent, and deep faith shine through on their CD project.

“Whatever the effective outcome of this effort, I think it demonstrates the compassion of the people who compose our choir,” said Father Mathias. “They are a great Christian witness to us all.”

St. Augustine said a person who sings prays twice. With regards to the St. John Neumann Choir, one could say they now pray thrice.

Those interested in obtaining a copy of “Voices Raised for Healthcare” can contact the parish at 508-763-2240. Copies are also available before and following each weekend Mass at the church at 157 Middleboro Road, East Freetown.

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