Holy Name Gospel Choir celebrates 20 years

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PROVIDENCE — A little over 20 years ago, a local choir director had a vision: he wanted his local church to start the only Catholic gospel choir in the Diocese of Providence.

Today, the Holy Name of Jesus Gospel Choir is still going strong — and remains the only one of its kind in Rhode Island, and one of the few in New England.

“It’s pride of what we’ve accomplished and how long we’ve been here together. Not many choirs hang in that long,” said Mary Best, one of the original members of the choir, when asked to describe what the anniversary meant to her.

Out of about 15 members, about two thirds of them are original members, including Best, and the choir director, Joyce Brayboy. “It’s incredible that we’ve been together over actually 20 years,” Brayboy said, factoring in the time it took to form the choir.

The choir celebrated their anniversary in the best way that they knew how — by singing. Their celebration took place in the form of a concert at Holy Name on Sunday September 9 and featured Holy Name’s two other choirs — the African Community Choir and the St. Ambrose Schola Cantorum. They were also joined by choirs from three other local churches — Beneficent Congregational Church, Bethel AME and Olney Street Baptist.

Father Joseph Santos, the pastor at Holy Name, said the choir plays an integral role in the liturgical life of the Church.

“The gospel choir is a great asset to the parish because it provides very beautiful, quality, almost a cappella music which is now once again being recommended by music professionals as a way of showing not only the purity of the voices but also the fact that, especially in Church, that we’re called to praise God with our voices — with who we are,” Father Santos said.

Brayboy said she believes the choir brings ‘warmth’ to the Mass. “I like to think that we help to enhance the liturgy,” she said.

“That’s what the Gospel does — it just lifts us,” Best said.

During a recent rehearsal, the choir sang a spiritual melody — seamlessly weaving in lines from several different gospel songs. Also on their list were “No Doubt,” and a contemporary gospel song titled “Yes,” which they will do with the other choirs at their September 9 concert. The group’s signature song is Psalm 23.

Though members tend to come from within the congregation at least one hails from outside the city — Aldo Alessandro, who is parishioner at St. John Paul II’s in Pawtucket, which was the result of a merger between St. Leo the Great and St. Cecilia. Alessandro said he appreciated also being involved in a parish that is able to celebrate such anniversaries. “It’s wonderful to see a parish still being happy to celebrate such a long history,” he said.

Brayboy is both an original member and the third director of the choir. She assumed the position after filling in as a backup for her predecessors. “I enjoy it,” Brayboy said. “I enjoy teaching.”

It comes naturally for someone who grew up in a musical family—her father played the saxophone and her brother played the trumpet, while she once played the flute and the violin, in addition to singing in school. As much as she relishes her current position, Brayboy says she also misses singing in the gospel choir. But she gets her turn in other church choirs in the area. “I guess I like to sing,” Brayboy said.

Members of the choir tend to come from within the congregation at Holy Name, a parish on the East Side that stands out for its devotion to Sacred Music. In addition to its gospel choir, members of the Nigerian community contribute to the African choir and the Schola Cantorum lends their voices to the Latin Mass at the parish. Counting a children’s group, Holy Name has four choirs.

“It is a very spiritual church and each group brings something different,” Alessandro said.

“This is not a normal parish,” Father Santos said. “I usually tell people Holy Name is a microcosm of the Catholic Church.”