Sweet sounds of music filled the vast, yet empty space of St. Margaret of Scotland Church in south St. Louis.
The music is a gift to the community — Spirit Sessions: Songs from Peter and Steve, recorded at the church and presented on Facebook and YouTube. The goal is to fill a void for parishioners, bringing them comfort.
The first song they recorded, “How Can I Keep From Singing,” featuring Bjorn Ranheim on cello, was selected to lift up people’s spirits. “Wisdom, My Road,” also with Ranheim, a St. Louis Symphony Orchestra musician, was chosen because of the melody and because the lyrics are appropriate to the times. Another selection, “There Is A Light,” with jazz bassist Bob DeBoo was cited as a hopeful tune.
The project from St. Margaret of Scotland choir members Steve Neale and Peter Merideth was inspired by the COVID-19 crisis and people stuck at home across the country. “Feelings of loneliness and isolation are especially hard for folks right now,” they wrote in introducing the music. “Many are also missing their weekly religious traditions that bring community and spiritual comfort. We know music plays a big part of that spiritual experience, and hope to give folks a taste of it each week from the comfort of their homes via this group.”
Neale, director of the St. Margaret choir and also the music director at Villa Duchesne High School, said they heard from people who were floundering after staying at home, and their response came from a desire to help.
The reaction to the first post was more than he expected, showing him “a thirst” for the music.
Neale said he tells his students that musicians give to people what they really need. He’s had people hear a piece of music he’s played — whether it’s religious music or a silly piece — and tell him it came at the right time.
Music releases emotions, he said.
Neale didn’t grow up in St. Margaret of Scotland Parish, but he took piano lessons from Peter Hesed, pastoral associate and music director at the parish. He sang in the choir occasionally and found that “the community of people here are the embodiment of that Catholic ‘we are the Body of Christ.’” he said. “That’s how I feel when I walk into this place and see it full of people of all shapes, sizes, colors and stripes together doing one thing, attending Mass and celebrating the Eucharist.”
Performing “Holy Is Your Name” with Neale and Merideth on a recent recording was another musician who plays at Masses at the parish. Emily Bowman began learning the violin using the Suzuki Method at the age of 3. She attended St. Margaret of Scotland School, where she started a Suzuki Violin Program in 2013. Bowman performs in St. Louis and has performed with the Black Eyed Peas, New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Christine Brewer, Josh Groban, Michael W. Smith, and Amy Grant.
“Music is my life,” she said. “I tell my students you are always telling your story through music, express as much as you can through music. It’s a good relief.”
The parish is “like a second family to me,” she said.
Neale and Merideth are also one half of the quartet The Wee Heavies, a Celtic singing group that plays throughout the area. Neale performs a variety of other musical jobs across the region and is the music director for the Fox Performing Arts Charitable Foundation. He has a degree in film scoring from Berklee College of Music.
Merideth, who has a bachelor’s degree in music from the Catholic University of America, said he needed “to feed my soul, get the creative juices flowing. I also knew that a lot of other people were missing what they get out of the music at church here each week.”
Music expresses emotion in a way words can’t on their own, he said. Music takes the chaos of sound and makes order and beauty out of it, he added.