By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published September 3, 2020
ATLANTA—Donal Noonan hosts a community-driven, tune-in tour of music during this time when choir singing is discouraged in churches.
He takes to Facebook at 7 p.m. daily to produce what he calls a musical reflection inviting friends of the Shrine of Immaculate Conception, Atlanta, to take a breather for 10 minutes, learn the back story of a song and be immersed in the power of music.
“My experience with music, especially working with the Homeward Choir, music is able to center people and music is able to be a vessel to bring people to a place of calm, so they can make rational decisions, they might process things,” said Noonan.
What used to be a soul-elevating exercise now can be the source of illness.
Coronavirus outbreaks have been traced to worship services. Researchers believe activities like singing produce respiratory droplets that spread COVID-19 and should be avoided.
The 38-year-old has always loved to sing. He started the Homeward Choir recruiting men from the Central Night Shelter to join their voices in music. He later added a choir from a women’s shelter.
As the music director since 2012 at Atlanta’s oldest church, Noonan said when Masses were suspended in March the parish staff realized they couldn’t wait for the community to come to them. Its mindset is to go where the community is. And these days, it is often online and on Facebook. The pastor uses the platform for a nighttime reflection, as does the parochial vicar for midday Bible readings. Sunday Mass is broadcast on Facebook, with a prerecorded choir song.
The music mirrors the diversity of folks who worship at the parish, from gospel spirituals and protest songs to Broadway hits and Gregorian chants.
“We’ve kind of run the gamut of all different genres. And one thing that stayed through all of them was a positive message,” he said. “It’s about creating that space of community in 2020. How do we do that?”
He’s found a way for this downtown parish community.
The work isn’t complicated for Noonan, a self-described “musical nerd.” He introduces the song sharing history of the song writer or trivia about the music.
“I’m Irish, there’s nearly always a story attached to every song,” said Noonan.
He spotlights music tied to the liturgical calendar, toe-tapping songs, or tunes just to get you to face the day’s challenges.
During June protests against racial injustice, he shared “Fix Me Jesus,” “Woke Up this Morning,” “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around” and “We Shall Overcome.” There was a week with gospel-inspired Broadway hits and songs from the 1950s and 1960s. He’s now adding more voices, talking with other musicians and parish members to hear about music from them.
A link from YouTube sends people to the original video performance so he doesn’t worry about copyright issues.
The goal is “opening people up to different genres that they might not be used to,” he said.
In his home, where he still works with the choir who appear in the now familiar Zoom boxes, Noonan has taken the advice of his pastor and created a small nook, with a comfortable chair and reading lamp. It’s where he goes at the end of the day to collect himself, pray the rosary, or read a few pages in a book to remember what’s important.
“I’m a people person, I’m a musician. I’m a choir director without a choir. I get my energy from people. We’ve kind of come to the realization this thing is not going anywhere. Instead of hiding from it, we’re learning how to live in parallel with it.”
Find the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception community on Facebook at www.facebook.com/CatholicShrineAtlanta.