Parish of St. Vincent Ferrer and St. Catherine of Siena

A Parish of the Archdiocese of New York served by the Dominican Friars

June 11, 2016

Improvisation – Pastor’s Reflection (June 12, 2016)

Since I arrived at St. Vincent’s six years ago I have taken a secret pleasure in celebrating the Solemn Mass at noon on Sunday. When the cantor announces the hymn I try not to hear what it is.  Rather, I listen to the improvisation and try to figure it out.  From the time the choir leaves the Friars’ Chapel until the moment when it reaches the front of the church and prepares to head down the main aisle, I count on Mark to improvise upon the hymn in his inimitable fashion.  By the time I turn the corner, he has revealed it to me, and I am singing away, but also thinking; “how did he get from that Point A to this Point B?” To me, Mark Bani’s skill as an organist makes clear the difference between learning to play a piece and grasping the inner genius of that piece. The improvisations manifest a closeted potential hidden behind something as regular and predictable as a hymn tune. That walk down the South Aisle of the church never ceases to yield insight into songs that have become deeply familiar through 30 years of exposure.

I wonder what improvisation has to teach us about life. If Mark can unlock new treasures in the familiar year after year, then does his creativity not invite us to unlock our own?  This singular skill of his shows with clarity how music can unlock the creative places in us that lie beneath words.

For twenty-three years Mark has helped people unpack the rich content of their deepest selves through his craft.  In his work the skill of the artist comes together with the devotion of the minister. Bringing this double gift, he has profoundly touched the lives of so many people, particularly at the hinge-moments of marriage and death. His gift is to be present just at the point where words ring trite, and to validate what people cannot say.

Surely, Mark has done this very service for me along the serpentine path of pastoral service. There have been many times when he has made the organ calm me down when a bride was late, or has helped me give last-minute shape to a homily that would not otherwise gel.  How is it that a person can cause such a vast mechanism to be so kind and considerate?

In the life of this parish, Mark’s reliability has proven a rock-solid pillar of our common life and has given the community remarkable stability through the tenures of six pastors. His work has played a defining role in the development of this parish.

In this time of transition ahead, let us pray that Mark will find in God and His providence the very gifts he has given so generously to others.



Fr. Walter