Detroit music minister writes ‘Mass for Motor City’


DETROIT — Aaron Kaleniecki said he didn’t see how changing the wording to prayers was going to work musically with the new Roman Missal.

“When you are expected to keep the melody the same and use words with additional or fewer syllables, it gets clumsy,” said the music minister at St. Aloysius and St. Patrick parishes, both in downtown Detroit.

“I thought starting from scratch would make a lot more sense,” he adds. So that’s what Kaleniecki, 34, did. The result is the Mass for the Motor City, a work that includes the “Gloria,” “Sanctus” (“Holy, Holy”), “Memorial Acclamation” for A, B and C, “Amen” and “Lamb of God” from the new Roman Missal.

The historic sound of the city comes to life with the sway of gospel, the influence of Motown and infusion of traditional music.

Aaron Kaleniecki and his wife, Ruth, go over some of the music in the Mass for the Motor City based on the new Roman Missal at St. Aloysius Church in Detroit Nov. 20. Kaleniecki is the composer and arranger of the music, which brings in elements of Motown and gospel music. (CNS/Marylynn G. Hewitt)

“The Mass for the Motor City feels like home,” said Alisa Anderson, choir member at St. Aloysius. “It’s comforting, calls you in and you want to be a part of it.”

That’s part of what Kaleniecki had in mind as he composed and arranged the work, which he says is universal and can be used regardless of the setting.

“I started with what I thought was a simple singable melody that worked with the new (Roman Missal) text, something melodic, something that you would remember, something that was easy to pick up,” he said. “And once I had the basic melody structure down, then I created the accompaniment that would suit the style for a parish using contemporary music or a parish using traditional music. So the core of the music — the melody, notes and words — are identical and can be adapted to a broad base of congregation and musical styles with rhythm shifts.”

At St. Aloysius, where the Sunday Mass crowd varies from 150 to 200, Kaleniecki uses a variety of styles to fit the diverse population known for its vibrant singing and participation.

Gloria Anderson said the songs “really uplift me” when they sound like “a lot of the old gospel music.” Raised Baptist, she became a Catholic four years ago at the age of 69 and said she most appreciates hearing the music played on the pipe organ. “Oh, I enjoy that,” she said and smiled.

Wayne State University graduate student Peter Schmidt said he really likes the new music and that everybody can sing it.

Kaleniecki said he worked to make sure the music fits with the words “and as the inflection of the words change, the music does as well. I think that’s why people have gravitated to it because it makes sense musically as well as poetically.”

The music minister said at least a dozen other music ministers across the city heard the work and requested copies to use as well. He’s looking forward to the Christmas Eve Mass where the style will be Motown and “then Christmas Day we’ll be using the setting for brass and organ with the Motor City Horns, now on tour with Bob Seger,” he said. “It will be different styles, but the congregation will easily be able to participate because they know the melody, which stays the same no matter what.”

Strains of Motown music, such as what one would hear from the Four Tops, is something that Kenny Butler picked up on when he first heard the new music.

“Of course,” he said, he grew up listening to that music. “But also a big chunk of my life is Gregorian chant and classical music” and he said he can hear that in adaptations for the Mass for the Motor City as well.

Franciscan Father Tod Laverty, pastor of St. Aloysius and St. Patrick parishes, said he’s very proud of Kaleniecki “for taking the time to compose something. It’s just a thrill. It’s fun to see somebody use their gifts and then to bring about something that’s so singable.”

The pastor remembers the Sunday in late September when Kaleniecki first practiced it with the congregation before Mass. “Our parish community sang it with great gusto and I thought, ‘My goodness, they’ve got it, and they’ve got it on the first bounce. He’s written something that they were aching to sing and they didn’t know it.’”