PATERSON, NJ - Jessica Mattiace sat at the Peragallo Pipe Organ perched high above the sanctuary of the 154-year old Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Paterson. The beautiful music that emanated from the majestic instrument matched the pristine renovation of the parish’s interior, part of a six year, $17.4 million, restoration completed in June, 2017.
After studying at Tyburn Academy in Auburn New York, Mattiace moved to Rome where she graduated from the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music and worked at the archive of the prestigious St. Mary the Major’s Basilica in the papal city. There, Mattiace was not only able to learn about the history of the church but also to observe ancient documents and manuscripts.
During this time Mattiace participated in worship services, led by the Rev. Msgr. Eugene (Geno) R. Sylva, now Rector of the Cathedral and Diocesan Vicar for Special Projects at St. John’s, at The Church of Santo Spirito (Church of the Holy Spirit).
Moving to Paterson from Rome, Italy, in November, and once again working with Msgr. Sylva, Mattiace is now leading the new cathedral choir and playing the organ for worship services and special occasions.
Mattiace said that she is excited about the choir’s development.
“We have about 18 regular members in our choir and a total of 25 people who participate,” Mattiace told TAPinto Paterson before a recent practice.
“We are looking to build up each section, sopranos, altos, tenors, and basses. Our choir is both dedicated and enthusiastic,” Mattiace explained. “We focus on congregational hymns and classical, sacred music. Most of our choir members are parishioners here but anyone is welcome to join.”
Shortly before practice began, twin sisters Lizette Yurena and Daisy Velez arrived. The Paterson residents were eager to exercise their vocal chords.
“I started singing in the choir here at St. John’s in 1985,” Lizette said. “Daisy and I both attended Passaic County Technical Institute. We sing contemporary Christian music as well as sacred classical. Singing is my way of serving the church.”
Daisy concurred with her sibling.
“I love our new choir,” Daisy shared. “Since Ms. Mattiace has come, I’ve learned a lot about music.”
Mattiace performs at the keys, stops, and foot pedals include during two masses on Saturdays, beginning at 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. and has started a children’s choir for singers from seven to 12 years old. The church also has a bilingual service and conducts a youth group for teenagers.
While responsibilities performing for masses include leading the congregation in singing and in proper, prescribed liturgical formula, as well helping to deliver Gregorian chants, Mattiace, who occasionally performs solo, said her hope is simpler than that: To play a part in encouraging worship.
The choir, Mattiace added, is busily preparing for Easter and Holy Week later this month, which also includes preparing special liturgy booklets for congregational masses.
After performing “Come Spirit Blest” at a recent confirmation, Mattice explained that the song was originally written in Latin and later translated into King James English. The purpose of its inclusion in the special service, recognized as one of the Catholic Church’s seven sacraments, Mattiace explained, is to “call upon the Holy Spirit.”
Part of the hymn, she added, is from the Latin word “Ubicaritas” or, as translated into English, “where charity and love are found, God is present there.”
“I’m very happy to be here at the cathedral,” Mattiace, whose fiance, Orlando Arreguin, is working towards a PhD in choral conducting, summarized. “I want people to see the beauty of God through music.”
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