Hymns and harmonies amid a circle of love

“I call it the love story of all love stories.”

That is how Ron Siviski describes what it has been like to be part of the music program at Sacred Heart Church in Yarmouth for the past 40 years.

“The support has been phenomenal over the years,” he says. “Our music family here is a family within the larger church family. We are here to love and support each other in any way possible. It’s a close-knit group and a circle of love really.”

Most weekends, Siviski sings at all three of Sacred Heart’s Masses. He is a member of the adult choir and director of the Men’s Schola, which sings during the church’s Sunday 8 a.m. Mass.

“I love hearing a uniform sound, a uniform blend of the voices, and when my Men’s Schola achieves that, it’s such a treat. It’s a reward. I tell them that it’s a reward for focusing and being reverent to the text and to what we’re doing as a ministry,” he says. “I use a term called ‘monk-ness’ when we achieve a nice blend.”

Siviski says when they achieve monk-ness, it enhances the experience of both the schola members and the congregation.

“It provides another layer of beauty to the liturgy, another level of connection to the word. Music can take the liturgy to new levels. There is no end to the levels. I tell singers, ‘We work to get the notes, the rhythms, the dynamics down, and once the rudiments are under our belts, we work on delivering the message.’ It almost becomes a reward when we reach the level. It becomes not only prayerful but a spiritual experience because we have the rudiments out of the way and we’re delivering emotion. We’re delivering a message, and people feel that when we reach that level. I’ll say, ‘That’s the Lord’s reward given to you.’”

Siviski has had a love and appreciation for music since he was a boy. He says he has been singing in public since he was five years old.

“I sang at school events, suppers. My older brother and I would harmonize. We would switch parts. I was born with a musical ear. It runs in our family. My mom was a church soloist in her early days, and my dad could sing as well, so we had a lot of singing time in the car and at home. My other siblings also sing and, also, the extended family. The aunts and uncles could all sing,” he says.

Growing up in Winslow, he says he would listen to the music at Mass and say, ‘I want to do this someday.’

“I was in the public school, and I was always envious of the parochial school students at St. John who got to sing all the time in church,” he says.

He got his chance when he was in high school, becoming a member of the adult choir at St. John the Baptist Church.

Siviski studied music and performed in several theater productions in his younger years. In fact, that is how he met his wife, Patricia. They were both performing in a production of Hello, Dolly! at the Waterville Opera House. The couple was also part of a musical quartet that did performances, including singing at churches, from time to time.

When Ron and Patricia made plans to move to southern Maine in 1984, Father Roger Chabot, pastor of Sacred Heart at the time, with whom they were friends, approached them about coming to the parish to help elevate the music program.

“I remember him saying, ‘Don’t buy a house until you come to see me,’” says Siviski.

For the next 23 years, Patricia directed the parish’s music ministry, while Ron served as assistant director. Together, they took the program to new heights. They formed a youth choir that grew to about 40 members. They had an accomplished teen choir of about 20 young women, and there was an adult choir.

“Part of it was Pat’s personality. She had a personality that would attract people. She was a very positive, uplifting individual. And I also enjoyed recruiting and singing and passing on my enthusiasm,” Siviski says. “So, over the years, the program blossomed.”

The program was so successful that the choirs toured in Europe several times, performing at an Advent music festival in Vienna and singing in Germany, Ireland, and Italy.

 “We had the goal to sing at Mass, maybe a Sacred Heart Church if there was one nearby,” he says. “Sometimes, we would compete. When we were in Italy, we won a bronze award in a competition that took place in Verona.”

The choirs also performed beyond church walls closer to home.

“We were involved with the Hymn Sings Choir Festival in the area but also outreach. A couple times a year, we would do a concert for shut-ins at St. Joseph’s nursing home or at assisted-living places in the area. If it was Christmastime, we would do a Christmas program and then have a sing-along and invite residents to participate,” Siviski recalls.

Patricia and Ron were also instrumental in acquiring a pipe organ to fill what was an empty space in the church’s sanctuary.

“I remember Pat saying, ‘What is that arch for?’ And we were told it was put there in case we wanted an organ someday, so she said, ‘Well, let’s get one.’”

In 1985, going through an organ clearinghouse dedicated to preserving the instruments, the parish acquired an Opus 1123 organ built by George Jardine & Sons. It was moved from a church in New York and reassembled at Sacred Heart. The 130-year-old organ remains in use today.

After 27 years of marriage, 23 of them spent serving together in the Sacred Heart music program, Patricia died from cancer. Such was the appreciation for her that the Patricia Siviski Music Endowment was established in her memory. Carrying on Patricia’s legacy, the fund is dedicated to using music to bring all people closer to God.

After Patricia’s death, Ron took over as director of the music ministry, continuing to serve in that position until 2018, when he turned the reins over to Jennifer Runge.

Runge says she has learned a lot through their 14-year friendship.

“He has been utterly open and forthcoming about sharing the nuances and complexities of music ministry. He has coached me on everything from tips and tricks for assembling a cohesive choir from a parishioner volunteer base, to how to navigate pastoral-musician relations, to advice on the live acoustics at Sacred Heart Church (and how subtle things like ceiling fans affect the overall sound of the choir), to how to plan each weekend’s liturgy by looking beyond the expected repertoire list, to managing a choral music library, to keeping a rehearsal fun and engaging by mixing old favorites with a more challenging and new repertoire, to fostering a spirit of collegiality and collaboration amidst the clustered music staff,” says Runge.

That appreciation for Siviski is shared by the Men’s Schola members, whom he continues to direct.

“He brings out the best in us, and he enjoys bringing that out. He’s great,” says Chip Metevier. “I have grown to love music because of him.”

“Ron prepares us well, given that we are amateurs. He is very patient with us so that when we rehearse, he’ll go back until we get it right and then pray that we’ll still get it right during the Mass,” says Bill Richards.

Siviski says he has continued to serve for decades because he recognizes that his musical talent is a gift from God, and it’s a way of showing his gratitude for it.

“It’s pretty much doing God’s work, so that is a gift to me, and I like to be a gift to those I serve,” he says. “It’s a beautiful circle of planning, seeing the effect that it has on those you serve, and then it all comes back to you as a gift. It just raises your spirituality, just to recognize where it came from and then to give it back.”

He says being part of the music ministry at Sacred Heart nourishes him.

“I just feel the spirit when I am doing my work here,” he says. “I just love it. It’s just a part of my own worship, part of my own spiritual life, being connected musically.”

Ron Siviski
Ron Siviski