by Cynthia De Castro/Asianjournal.com
LOS ANGELES – The East Coast is all-agog these days for the much-anticipated first apostolic journey of Pope Benedict XVI to the United States from April 15 to 20. The plans for the five-day visit will include a meeting with President Bush at the White House, an address at the United Nations in New York, and a stop at Ground Zero. What is especially exciting to the American public, especially the Catholics, are the major events where they can see and greet the Pope.
In New York, he will say Mass at the Cathedral of St. Patrick and at the Yankee Stadium before they tear it down. The Pope will also lead an ecumenical, inter-religious event at the John Paul II Cultural Center and address a youth rally at the St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers.
Overseeing the music for these events and conducting both Masses is a young Filipina American – Dr. Jennifer Pascual, the Director of Music of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Aside from directing music at St. Patrick’s, a center of Catholic life in America, Jennifer is also host of the popular radio program “Sounds from the Spires” on the Catholic Channel 159. She currently teaches and serves as Director of Music at the St. Joseph’s Seminary and College in Yonkers, New York.
Born in LA in 1971, Jennifer proudly said that her parents are both from Manila and met in California. Her father is a retired Navy while her mother is a retired nurse.
A musical conductor and a liturgical and concert organist, Jennifer took her Bachelor of Music Education and Bachelor of Music in Organ and Piano Performance (magna cum laude) in Jacksonville University in Florida. She then moved to New York where she took up her Master of Music in Piano Performance at Mannes College of Music and her Doctor of Musical Arts in Organ Performance with a minor in Church Music at the Eastman School of Music.
“I have always enjoyed music as a child and growing up,” Jennifer said. she explained that She added that specializing in church music was a natural inclination. “I really didn’t want to do anything else. To have just a solo performing career is just that – solo – kind of lonely. I like working with people.”
Her prestigious position as the Director of Music at St.Patrick’s is something that Jennifer credits to luck.
“I happened to be conducting a concert at St. Joseph’s Seminary in NY and His Eminence, Edward Cardinal Egan was present. It was at a time that the Cathedral was in transition and looking for a new director of music. I simply happened to be in the right place at the right time,” she said.
From teaching piano classes and music at various schools to playing the organ in different Catholic churches, Jennifer has risen in her profession to become the Director of Music at the St. Frances de Chantal Catholic Church, the Associate Director of Music Ministries at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred and the Conductor of the New York Archdiocesan Festival Chorale before she was offered her present position.
“It is a lot of work” she admitted. “ And being in such a highly visible place, there are a lot of politics involved and a lot of people to keep happy. However, the flip side is that the people are wonderful, and we get to make beautiful music in one of the grandest cathedrals in the world. Everyone comes to New York, so I see people that I know from all over the world.”
Jennifer’s other job is hosting a radio program. “I never did it before and all of a sudden I got asked to do it,” she exclaims. “It’s once a week for an hour. We talk about music and how it ties in with faith, religion, get to know church musicians, that kind of thing,” she added.
Very few Filipinos. There is, however, an annual Filipino Mass and that is very well attended with almost a full cathedral,” she said.
“I really love the [Philippines], the food, the people. I wish the Philippines was not so far away so I could visit more often. I’ve only been there twice. I went last 2004 as the featured organist at the Las Piñas (my mother’s hometown) Bamboo Organ Festival,” she said.
When not busy at work, Jennifer usually just catches up with her sleep or she travels and enjoys fine dining. As to future plans, she admits she just wants to stay and direct music in St. Patrick’s.
“I hope to be here for a very long time! I just would like to continue to make great music not only in the Cathedral but throughout the Archdiocese of New York and hope that we continue to be a model for the rest of the United States,” she said.
Next time you visit St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, pause for a while, listen to the great music, and thank God for this Filipina giving such wonderful music to our ears.