Music at St. Monica’s a gift to Chester County community

By Jim Gauger
Special to The CS&T

BERWYN – Frank K.J. Orman speaks to God through music.

The 27-year-old director of music for St. Monica Parish, Berwyn, is responsible for the parish choir, the contemporary ensemble (along with director Catherine Cappelletti), the high school singers and the children’s and youth choir.

They all come under the umbrella of music ministry at St. Monica. Their mission, Orman said, is “to enhance the beauty of the liturgy, bringing the assembly to a spiritual level where spoken words cannot reach alone.”

But there is more. Much more.

Orman, who has been music director for eight years, guides a program titled, “Music at Monica’s.” He calls this series of concerts “a musical outreach to the community.”

The 2009-10 series is in the process of being completed, but several events have been scheduled. The opening concert will feature Philadelphia Orchestra Concert Master David Kim, accompanied by Jeffrey Uhlig on piano, Sunday, Nov. 1, at 3 p.m. in the church.

On the third Sunday in Advent, Dec. 13, the American Boychoir will perform at 3:30 p.m. in the church.

Yet another highlight occurs Feb. 26, 2010, when ConcertOPERA Philadelphia presents “The Abduction from the Seraglio,” one of Mozart’s greatest comic masterpieces. That is scheduled for 8 p.m. in the parish auditorium.

Orman is working on more events to be announced before the schedule ends June 12, 2010, with a concert at 7 p.m. in the Grotto. Most of the events are free – donations are suggested – with the exception of the Mozart concert, which is ticketed.

It is the opening concert featuring Kim that has Orman particularly excited. Through music contacts in the city, Orman discovered that Kim often works with Uhlig as his accompanist. Uhlig performs at a retirement community with which Orman is familiar.

“I mentioned to Jeffrey Uhlig that I’d love to have David Kim come to St. Monica,” Orman said. “He does a few concerts not connected to the orchestra – he did the Ocean City Pops this summer. Jeffrey made it happen,” Orman said.

Kim will be performing works by Mozart, Brahms, Sarasate and Massenet, accompanied by Uhlig on the church’s Steinway piano.

Kim has been concert master since 1999. According to the Philadelphia Orchestra web site, Kim “started playing violin at the age of 3, began studies with the famed pedagogue Dorothy DeLay at the age of 8, and later received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Juilliard School.”

The concert series is underwritten by contributions from sponsors and parishioners. “We’ve never been in the red,” Orman said.

Two years ago, this largesse resulted in the purchase of two pianos, a Steinway for the church (capacity 550 to 600) and a Yamaha for the auditorium (capacity 250) for $100,000.

The purchase of the Steinway has been most beneficial, says Orman. “Some of the finest pianists want to play the instrument,” he said.

Orman attended Holy Saviour School in Norristown until fifth grade and then went Malvern Preparatory School in Malvern for grades six to 12. There, he was the student director of liturgical music for all chapel services and Masses. He also played the organ at St. Monica during his senior year at Malvern. He majored in music and theology at Immaculata University and continued as organist at St. Monica.

Orman works with a committee that is responsible for the music ministry at the parish.

“We have an artistic vision for the whole year,” Orman said. “If we hear a need, we try to bring in what we can.

“We embrace the guidelines of Vatican II (The Constitution of the Sacred Liturgy and Music in Catholic Worship),” Orman explained. “We believe in a high quality of music to inspire prayer – music that augments the liturgy, not overpowers it.

“With the arts, we open up a whole new dimension,” he said.

Father. William A. Trader, pastor of St. Monica Parish, has been most supportive of the arts program. “From my understanding of the works of God, one needs music to be part of the whole worship,” he said. Father Trader is fond of a saying from St. Augustine, son of St. Monica: “Singing is for the one who loves.”

Father Trader invited Orman to become the music director in 2001, the same year Father Trader came to St. Monica. Father Trader says he felt the resources of being a church on the Main Line would enable the music program to be excellent.

“Frank has certainly introduced the parish community to a finer quality of music,” Father Trader said.

The “Music at Monica’s” series can be looked at as a gift to the community. Orman wants to expose children to more singing, thus the American Boychoir concert on Dec. 13.

“We welcome people from the community at large to the church,” he said. “Music fosters a social atmosphere.”

Orman admits that many people are not familiar with classical music so he feels the “Music at Monica’s” series can inform as well as entertain.

“For me,” Orman said, “music brings a multifaceted element of history, where the composers come from, understanding their work, then hearing it performed. To me, it is soul-searching.”

Jim Gauger is a freelance writer and a member of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish, Glenside.