Choir of Hope unites diverse downtown Seattle parish

  • Written by Louis McGill
  • Published in Local
Jerome Smith leads the Choir of Hope at Christ Our Hope Parish Aug. 27, during the parish’s seventh anniversary celebration. At right are Father Paul Magnano, Christ Our Hope’s pastor, and Auxiliary Bishop Daniel Mueggenborg, who presided and preached at the parish’s three anniversary Masses. Photo: Claire Bankson Jerome Smith leads the Choir of Hope at Christ Our Hope Parish Aug. 27, during the parish’s seventh anniversary celebration. At right are Father Paul Magnano, Christ Our Hope’s pastor, and Auxiliary Bishop Daniel Mueggenborg, who presided and preached at the parish’s three anniversary Masses. Photo: Claire Bankson

SEATTLE – On a Saturday morning in August, more than 20 voices raised to a crescendo at Christ Our Hope Church, with one word stretching out and reverberating through the air: “Coffee!”

The singers, from all walks of life, were gathered for a vocal workshop organized by their choir director, Dr. James Savage.

“It’s been really rich,” Jamie Greene said of his experience in Choir of Hope, which sings at the Sunday evening Mass. “I think what’s been fun about it is the great diversity in this particular choir.”

Savage said the choir brings together everyone from millennial tech workers living in Belltown to low-income residents of the Josephinum, the downtown building where Christ Our Hope Parish is located.

Savage came to Christ Our Hope after retiring in 2015 as longtime music director at St. James Cathedral. Christ Our Hope’s pastor, Father Paul Magnano, recruited Savage to observe the music at all three Masses, including the choir that was formed for the 2015 Christmas season.

After Mass one evening, Savage said, he overheard two of the choir members lamenting that the choir would be coming to an end. “They just didn’t know what they were going to do,” he said, “because it seemed like finally they were going to be able to make music and worship.”

So Savage volunteered to spend a few weeks helping direct the choir while he and Father Magnano searched for a permanent director. Instead, Savage decided to direct the choir himself. “After two Sundays and two Tuesdays, I was hooked,” he said. “I had fallen in love with the handful of singers God sent.”

Father Paul Magnano and James SavageFather Paul Magnano, pastor of Christ Our Hope Parish, and James Savage, director of the parish’s Choir of Hope, celebrate the parish’s seventh anniversary at the nearbv Pike Place Market atrium. Photo: Claire Bankson

Since then, the choir has grown to nearly three dozen members.

Jerome Smith, a Josephinum resident who was received into the Catholic Church at this year’s Easter Vigil, said the choir is “a way of the Holy Spirit to actually come and reach us.”

Smith joined the original Christmas choir after hearing a psalmist at Christ Our Hope. “I saw her singing up there and I’m like, ‘Wait a minute, she’s smiling as she’s singing at the same time? Whatever she has, I want some of that,’” he said. “So, that really helped me to become Catholic, too.”

Greene, a Protestant, said he was drawn to the choir by its sacred music. “In our Protestant context, we don’t have any formal liturgy and sacred music, and the hymnology is really lost today in the contemporary music scene,” he said. “So, I’ve tapped into something here that’s very life-giving that I can’t stay away from.”

The recent vocal workshop is just one activity Savage has organized to help build a sense of community among choir members with such a wide variety of life experiences.

That unity is apparent to parishioner David Ard, who joined the choir members at the workshop. “There’s a sense of interdependence and real community binding that I can see in the choir, and joy that I can see throughout,” he said.