Reflecting on lifelong impact of song, prayer

Marie Rubis Bauer grew up in southwestern Minnesota with music all around her.

Her late mother, Shirley, sang to her from a very young age – sometimes to help her keep still in the car. 

Her late father, Steve, was an amateur organist who encouraged Marie at age 13 to put her own formidable skills to work for the church they were faithful to in Lakefield: Holy Trinity Lutheran. By age 15, Marie was the musician for two other churches in town, and found herself directing and teaching adults much older than herself. 

She remembers her father practicing the organ late at night in the church, after a full day in the fields as a dairy farmer. He also sang with a barbershop chorus and quartet. 

And her father played and sang for the church, while her mother and everyone in the congregation joined him in singing loudly and well. 

“Everybody was the choir,” Marie said. “The whole church sang.”

It’s a practice Marie continues to encourage as director of music for the archdiocese and the organist at St. Cecilia Cathedral in Omaha. Beyond directing the Cathedral Choir, the Archdiocesan Chorale and the advanced ensemble Schola Caeciliana, she thinks about the choice of music to help people in the pews join in.

“Because we have lots of visitors, we choose very carefully music that can be easily learned or is very common or quickly learned,” she said. 

Music, after all, helped lead her to an ever-closer relationship with Christ, and was important in her conversion to Catholicism in 1998. Particularly music that is tied to the Mass, she said. 

“The source and summit of our faith teaches us a lot about our connections to one another,” Marie said. “Our lives, our failings and strengths come together and we carry it forward and bring it back to God. It’s the cycle of the liturgy.”

When Marie was a student at the University of Kansas, she was attracted by the Mass as celebrated at St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center. She practiced at the center’s pipe organ, went by the church’s baptismal font every time she played and began preparing to join the church through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.

“I appreciated how the priest went out of his way to not simply say the Mass. He celebrated it, in all its fullness,” she said. “I was very moved by that.”

Marie Rubis Bauer has been leading music in the archdiocese for 15 years. In January, she hired Michael Emmerich as associate director of music ministry and rural music ministry to reach out to people across the archdiocese.

Marie provided more on her journey of faith through music in a Q&A with the Catholic Voice:

Q: How does your faith influence your music?

There is no doubt that ‘breath and faith’ are connected for me. When sitting down to practice and hearing how harmony works, the pureness of a single note, the playful interaction of sounds in the room, particularly the cathedral where the generous acoustics mean that sound stays around for several seconds – it is in the ‘release’ of notes, when the sound carries on, that I am continually reminded of the communion of saints. This is like echoes of the community that has been singing the song for a long, long time, and the voices that are singing now are adding to the heavenly choirs already singing in eternity.  

I think about Jesus singing, a lot! I know that as a Jewish boy he would have chanted Scripture as he read. In knowing the psalms he would have sung them. As a human being growing up in a community he probably danced and sang with family and friends. 

The liturgical experiences of the past 25 years, my converting to Catholicism more than two decades ago, and growing in my understanding of the liturgical life of the church has transformed my playing, my teaching and my mission for helping people to approach worship in a way which engages them completely. It is the invitation that Christ has for them to join his eternal song to the Father. I especially love to work with youth to experience this in a way which helps them grow.

Q:  How does music influence your faith?

I feel so blessed for every experience that I have had that has allowed me to encounter the Scriptures, the traditions, the gifted poets, theologians, musicians, teachers and singers who gather to ‘give up their voice’ in sacrifice for that song to be received and transformed.  

It is overwhelming to think about all of the ways. It is that representation of the body of Christ, all parts contributing to the harmony of the whole, that is mystery and inspiration for me. In the cathedral we are blessed to have several physical reminders for inspiration. I love the poem “Ode on Saint Cecilia Day” by John Dryden, three verses of which are inscribed on the walls.

Q: Why is it important to have music at the cathedral?

The cathedral as Mother Church is compelled to use music, and as the seat of the archbishop’s pastoral ministry, to promote his mission – encountering Jesus, forming disciples and living mercy.  The cathedral is also a parish, so on a weekly basis the music is prepared for the liturgy according to the propers and guidance of the church.

Q: Many choir members are volunteers. What do choir members do for a living?

We discovered this year that there must be a close tie between medicine and music! We joke that choir would be one of the safest places to have a medical issue, because of the number of health professionals around! Literally, the singers come from all walks of life, military, horse trainer, law office professional, speech pathologist, restaurateur, high school and junior high students, but especially music teachers.

Q: What is your personal best experience since being at the cathedral?

It is hard to point to one. Some that come to mind as the most memorable always seem to center on the Sacred Triduum. 

Like snapshots, they come back to me and they mostly relate to music and ritual together – seeing a young boy chorister from several years ago kneeling and watching one of our adult cantors sing “Crux fideles” during the veneration of the cross, and knowing now as an adult he is a music teacher; the thunder of a whole church full of people singing “Jesus Christ is Risen Today” at the end of a long and fulfilling Easter Vigil;  the tear-filled members of the assembly kissing the wood of the cross as in the background a single high singer sings the mournful refrain of “Miserere” by Allegri;  the tender way that the Archbishop (George J. Lucas) washes the feet of immigrant members of the Kareni community while the choir sings “Ubi Caritas” – where charity and love is, God is there. 

The first words of two hymns sum this up for me: “When in our music God is glorified and adoration leaves no room for pride, it is as though the whole creation cried: ‘Alleluia.’” …. “O God, beyond all praising, we worship you today, and sing the love amazing, which songs cannot repay … We lift our hearts before you and glory in your ways and make a joyful duty our sacrifice of praise.”

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