Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the January/February 2014 issue of Catholic St. Louis magazine. Read the entire magazine here.
In 2014, Jeremy Boyer played the organ at Most Sacred Heart Church in Eureka; he is currently the director of liturgy and sacred music at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Oakville. He remains the organist for the St. Louis Blues, who advanced to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup Finals in 49 years.
Jeremy Boyer is “up in the rafters,” as they say. Look up, way up, near the top, and you’ll see him. “Up in the heavens.”
He can be seen, hands and feet pumping hard, his face intense. Look close enough and you can see a smile, the joy of his work flowing from him.
Most of all, Jeremy’s presence can be heard, his music from the organ is an essential part of both a large Catholic church and a large sports entertainment venue.
Jeremy sets the tone during worship at Most Sacred Heart Church in Eureka, where he is music director and organist, and during action at the then-Scottrade Center (now known as Enterprise Center) in downtown St. Louis, where he is the organist for St. Louis Blues games. He also can be found occasionally as organist at Busch Stadium, home of the St. Louis Cardinals, and he has played at special-event games for the Kansas City Royals.
He can be heard playing “When the Saints (Blues) Go Marching In” at a game and the “Litany of the Saints” at church; “Here Comes the King” at a game and “Jesus Christ Our Sovereign King” at church; “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” at a game and “Silent Night” at church. Then there’s classic rock for hockey and classic hymns at church.
His dedication and preparation show his determination to give glory to God, not only through liturgical music, but also by doing his best, no matter where he’s playing.
Music has the power to talk to people in ways other things can’t, Jeremy says. He learned early on that music elevated his prayer and his closeness to God, and he wanted to share that. “Between the music touching my soul and bringing my prayer to a certain level … I felt if I could share that with others maybe I could help others do the same thing.”
He sees liturgical music as a time for him to get away from the other noise in the world and to devote himself to praying through music, and using that as a tool to get closer to God.
“Through music, you can express so many emotions — joy, sorrow or what have you. At times, we can get stuck in ruts and go through the motions in praying, saying the same prayers over and over. Through music, you can pick a different piece or song and it gives you a chance to really express yourself in a different way or keep you focused in a different way.”
Make some noise
As the Blues hockey team prepares to skate onto the ice at the start of each game, public address announcer Tom Calhoun declares: “Get ready to make some noise tonight. It’s time for Bluuuues hockey.” The organist jumps in, his music continuing to lead the crowd’s enthusiasm. “Clap chants” is a term given to music intended to spark fans’ clapping.
The organist already has gained the interest of the fans at the game, playing several times during the pregame warm-up and as people file in to their seats. He continues to get the crowd involved in supporting the team as the players take the ice.
Jeremy began playing the organ at Masses at St. James Church in Potosi when he was 12. His grandmother had given his parents a small home organ that came in handy when Jeremy’s mom played at St. James.
He became interested in music at school. He first taught himself to play the organ, and his mother refined his skill as he progressed. “I thought it was cool that I could play some of the songs they play at church,” Jeremy explains, as he sits in the expansive choir loft of Sacred Heart Church. “My mom had some of the music from when she played at church. I started playing, and it became a passion of mine.”
He was asked to play at church, so he practiced with the organist there, who taught him a little more. “It was just something I wanted to do. I wasn’t superadvanced at 12,” Jeremy says with a laugh. “But I could get through a service.”
The first time he played by himself, as the bells rang just before Mass his hands were shaking. He made it through the first song and calmed down by the time he played the “Gloria.”
Later, as a student at Southeast Missouri State University, he played the organ regularly at Cathedral of St. Mary of the Annunciation and sometimes at the Newman Center on campus. He also sang in the choir at the National Shrine of the Miraculous Medal near Perryville. For six seasons, he played the organ for the SEMO baseball games and some basketball games.
After college, Jeremy taught music part-time at Immaculate Conception School in Jackson, Mo., and was director of the shrine’s professional choir. He later was the organist for the Memphis Redbirds, a minor-league baseball team affiliated with the St. Louis Cardinals.
He had studied with former Cardinals and Blues organist Ernie Hayes. When the Blues were looking for an organist at the start of the 2007-08 season, knowing Jeremy’s background, they hired him to play at the Scottrade Center. He hasn’t missed a home game since.
In St. Louis, he worked for Christ Prince of Peace Parish as director of liturgical music before going to Most Sacred Heart in 2013. His role has included leading the choir and parish music, including for weddings and funerals. At Most Sacred Heart, Jeremy teaches music one day a week at the school and leads all the music. The church has an organ with “a gorgeous tone to it,” he notes.
When approaching liturgical music, Jeremy uses a sports analogy: taking it one Mass at a time. “I focus on the liturgy itself. I look at the readings, what season we’re in and what music would best support the Mass and work with the musicians to get the most out of them. Sometimes it means picking different music depending on who is at what Mass, but I do my best to get the best sound and the best musical selection for each Mass.”
Jeremy points to Pope John Paul II as summarizing his approach to his talents. If God gave you the ability to do something, it would be a waste not to do it. “If I don’t use (my talent), I’m not doing what I’m capable of … I feel it’s something I’m charged with to use. I enjoy sharing that. Sometimes you get the chills knowing that what you’re doing is affecting other people.”
Perhaps someone who hadn’t been to church in a while came in and something about the music spoke to that person. That makes it all worthwhile, Jeremy notes: “I try to reach out and through my music help enrich people’s faith and help them understand what’s happening at Mass.”
Giving his all
At the sports venues, it’s not the same in a spiritual sense, but he gives his all because it affects other people. “You’re in charge of the mood. At a funeral or wedding there’s different emotions. The same with a Blues game, you have to be ready. You’re trying to fit the mood,” he says.
Sharing his abilities helps give joy to others regardless of whether it is at Mass or a Blues game, as he does his best to uplift others.
After a goal is scored against the Blues, he’ll play selections such as “I Won’t Back Down” by Tom Petty, “Don’t Bring Me Down,” by Electric Light Orchestra or “Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones.
One of his favorite choral pieces at Mass is “Regina Coeli” by Mozart, a joyful, enthusiastic piece that celebrates Our Lady and the season of Easter. It was the title track for a CD recorded by the shrine choir in Perryville.
One hymn he enjoys, “Holy God We Praise Thy Name,” was played by his choir at Southeast Missouri State while in Rome. He went to the Vatican on Pope John Paul II’s birthday and heard “Happy Birthday” sung by several choirs in their native languages. Jeremy sang at a Mass and prayer service in St. Louis celebrated by Pope John Paul II.
They didn’t know each other at the time, but his wife, Catherine, was blessed on stage by the pope at a youth rally during that 1999 papal visit. They met later at a choir concert hosted by the St. Louis chapter of National Pastoral Musicians, where she was performing with the choir from St. Ferdinand Parish in Florissant. Their first date was a 5 p.m. Mass at Christ Prince of Peace. They now have three young children, and she helps out with the music at Sacred Heart. Their middle child recently wrote of her intentions to be a songwriter, and the oldest child just started playing piano.
Jeremy is excited about the Blues, hoping for a long run into the postseason. Playing for a winner is easier and more fun, he says. The production/entertainment staff have a meeting some two hours before each game to map their approach, especially during breaks and intermission.
Generally he stays out of the way of players and former players, though he crosses paths with them occasionally. One time, though, he just had to say hello to the then-Phoenix Coyotes coach – Wayne Gretzky, considered the greatest goalscorer ever.