Our Lady of Weight Loss

Our Lady of Weight Loss


F.A.T.T. Chats with Cool Cats: Joe Simmons on Singing for the Papal Mass in Yankee Stadium

F.A.T.T. (Fat-Free and Tantalizingly Tasty) Chats with Cool Cats from Janice Taylor, Beliefnet BloggerAs the world of God would mysteriously have it, a few weeks ago I was having a conversation with my ‘spiritual adviser,’ Kathryn. We were discussing how I grew up down the block from a convent and how powerful the images of Mary are to me. She suggested that when I later that day walked past St. Paul’s Church (it’s down the block from my present home), that I stop by and ask Mary what she wanted for me. I promised to do so, because I love Kathryn and cherish our conversations. (Truthfully, I knew I had a busy day and wasn’t entirely committed to it. But once I promise something, I do it.)Fast forward, later that day, as I was walking past the church, running quite late, I barely paused and said aloud, “I promised Kathryn I’d stop by and ask you what’s next … so let me know.” And then I literally ran to the subway to make up the time. When I got home that evening, I was surprised (silly me, I asked for it) to find an invitation under my door to my neighbor’s birthday party. We are friendly neighbors and clearly like each other, but we haven’t gone to the movies together, sat around and chewed the fat, been girlfriends. Happily, I accepted. (Yea, friends are wonderful.)Fast forward, the party. More happy news – many of the guests were members of Christine’s church choir. I was treated to an evening of interesting and meaningful conversation and song. Yes, the choir sang for Christine’s birthday. Amazing! And most incredibly of all, I met Joe Simmons, who had the honor of singing for the Pope at Yankee Stadium. One thing led to another … Here follows my interview with Joe. (I’m guessing I should stop by St. Paul’s again, and clearly the style of delivery doesn’t matter. A shout out brought me that much closer to my neighbor, Christine, and Joe Simmons, an extraordinary person and cantor!)Joe Simmons’ Thoughts on Singing for the Papal Mass in Yankee StadiumJT: One thing I know for sure is that the spirit lives in the song. It takes us to places we may not otherwise travel. What are your feelings about the spirit that lives in the song?JS: Singing is intimately connected to the heart, so it’s a direct path to the spirit. By itself, the act of singing can take us there, but I think intent influences what we receive from it. So singing with people in a church service or other setting is different from singing to people in a performance. But, I think the spirit is alive is all of those instances.When I sing—whether it’s as a cantor leading prayer in a Mass or as a concert performer singing inspirational music–I feel the presence of the spirit very palpably. For me, it’s not anything earth-shattering or otherworldly. It’s a joyful feeling that God is with us and we’re in communion with each another. I’m always looking for that connection when I sing. It’s also important to me to communicate something through what I’m singing. That’s true whether I’m in a performance situation or if I’m leading a psalm for a congregation of 57,000 people for a Papal Mass in Yankee Stadium.And I certainly don’t think that we have to be singing religious music to be aware of the spirit in song. One of the most profound experiences of my life has been singing with my mother, who has Alzheimer’s disease. Now, I didn’t grow up in the type of family that gathers around a piano and sings Christmas carols and the like. But both my parents sang to me as a child and it’s a treasured memory for me. So a few years ago, when I went to visit my parents in Texas for Thanksgiving, I realized that if ever there was a time that we needed to sing, it was now. So I asked my mother to teach me some songs and we ended up teaching each other. We sang mostly in Spanish—children’s songs, folk songs, and a beautiful ballad that I always remembered my mother singing as she tidied up the house: “Solamente una vez ame en la vida.” (Only once did I love in my life.)Singing makes my mother very happy. So even though she’s not always sure if I’m her son or her little brother, when we sing together, we are intimately connected to each other and definitely to the spirit.What was it like singing for the Pope? Something truly personal, if you can.First of all, it was a huge honor to be invited to sing for the Papal Mass. I was also thrilled to be asked to lead the Responsorial Psalm because I feel very passionate about these beautiful poetic prayers. And it has become my mission to teach other cantors around the country how to bring them to life. I really wanted to connect with the pope through Psalm 33, which I was leading. And I also wanted to communicate the message of the psalm to the 57,000 people in Yankee Stadium, which is no small feat!I couldn’t see the Pope while I was singing because he was behind me. It was only by watching the video afterwards that I was able to see the very touching expression on his face while I was singing. He seemed to really be listening to the psalm and contemplating it. It meant a lot to me that we connected on this common level of prayer.Your goal of connecting with people sounds like singing is a way for you to tap into something deeper and more meaningful. How can you relate that to some of the things my readers deal with?As a life coach, you know how setting goals is so important to help us realize our dreams. If we can visualize the destination, the journey is much clearer. So with something like weight loss, it’s often harder to commit to a goal that’s simply stated as “I want to lose 20 pounds.” It’s usually more effective if you can tap into something deeper like “get back to the level of health I had ten years ago” or “get off my blood pressure medication.” Those are clearer and more inspiring destinations.My goal of connecting with people when I sing allows me to step out from behind the music and hopefully communicate something. Of course, I want to sound good, but it’s more important if I connect with people and say something through music.When I was first preparing to sing for the Papal Mass, it was nerve-wracking because, even though I had rehearsed the psalm within an inch of its life, I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to sing in Yankee Stadium in the presence of the pope and to lead 57,000 people in a sung prayer. It wasn’t until I got to rehearse in the Stadium the night before that I was able to visualize how I would reach out to all those people and do my best to have an “intimate” conversation with them. So when I stepped up to sing the next day at the Mass, I didn’t feel nervous at all. Instead, I felt a tremendous sense of joy about sharing the wonderful message of the psalm. Thank you, Joe, for an extraordinary and heartfelt interview. I am so looking forward to hearing you sing on May 30th at LIVE CONNECTIONS, at St. Malachy’s in New York City. Definitely a unique opportunity to experience some of the best performers and composers working in the American Catholic contemporary music scene. For more information email LiveConnections@live.com or visit Joe’s web page Oculus Music.Visit Our Lady of Weight Loss’s KICK in the TUSH Club community.For inspiration and motivation, pick up a copy of ALL IS FORGIVEN, MOVE ON, my latest book!



  • Michael Clark

    Great article; most inspirational. Joe ability to connect via song is real; one can truly feel it in a tangible sense.

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