Chances are, if you have attended Sunday or holy day Masses at Holy Name Cathedral in the last 17 years or so, you’ve heard Stephen Noon or Katherine Gray Noon, or both.
The couple, now married and living in Crystal Lake with their three children, have been members of the cathedral’s professional choir since they were undergrads in Northwestern University’s school of music. Now, in addition to their roles in the choir, they often serve as cantors, leading the congregation in the singing of the responsorial psalm and other prayers.
While both of them maintain other professional commitments, Holy Name Cathedral feels like home to them, Katherine Gray Noon said. It’s where they were married in 2002 and where all three of their children were baptized.
As university students, they never would have believed that they would end up living far out in the suburbs, but Katherine’s parents live nearby in Woodstock, and they found they can better afford the housing there.
Still, with most of their work concentrated on evenings and weekends, it’s not always easy.
“We have a large roster of teenage babysitters,” Stephen Noon said. “Now we do the 100- mile round-trip sometimes seven or eight times a week.”
“That’s the toughest thing about doing this together,” Katherine said. “It’s unusual to have a couple, especially with a family, and have both be professional musicians.”
These days, the most difficult Masses to cover are funerals, she said, because they usually happen on weekday mornings at short notice. Their youngest child, a son, is not yet in school all day, and their regular teenage babysitters are in school.
Both grew up in the church and were interested in singing in church, but neither really expected to make a career out of it.
The first step came when Stephen asked Katherine, then a friend of his, to join him in auditioning for the cathedral’s professional choir. At first, she was told no, all the audition slots for sopranos were filled.
At the last minute, one of the sopranos who had an audition cancelled, and Katherine sang and got the job. Stephen, a tenor, was also hired.
“And at that moment, the course of history was set,” Stephen joked.
Now, in addition to singing at two Masses every Sunday at Holy Name Cathedral, both also are members of the Grant Park Chorus and Stephen is music coordinator at St. Mary of the Angels Parish, 1850 N. Hermitage.
Between regular Masses at the two churches, weddings, baptisms and other events, they might sing at a dozen liturgies between the two of them on a single weekend.
In their careers at the cathedral, the couple has pretty much seen it all liturgically, from the installation of an archbishop to funerals of the famous, including the funeral Mass for Harry Carey in 1998. Katherine also cantored the Field of Faith Mass at Soldier Field on the feast of Corpus Christi in 2000, and sang for many of the rites involved in opening and developing the sainthood cause for Father Augustus Tolton
“We’ve done just about every kind of liturgy you can think of,” she said. “Midnight Mass every year is always really special.”
They bring Katherine’s parents and their children to stay downtown each year at Christmas, attending Mass together on Christmas Eve and then sending the kids and grandparents back to the hotel room to go to sleep while they sing at midnight Mass.
They sing one more time Christmas morning and then return home to see what Santa brought in the early afternoon.
“The kids are starting to ask why we can’t stay home for Christmas,” Stephen said.
Katherine said she sometimes looks out into the congregation and spots celebrities who may be visiting Chicago, or even attending friends’ weddings.
Stephen said that he tries to really listen to the readings and the homily at least once each Sunday, but it can be difficult if he has to be thinking about what comes next musically.
“It both strengthens your faith and challenges it,” Stephen said, because sometimes it becomes too easy to think of the sacred as a job to be done.
To keep that from happening, they try to remember that what they are doing is making the liturgy more beautiful and enhancing the experience for people who have come to pray and to spend time in the presence of God.
“Even if it’s our sixth Mass of the day, it could be the first time in X number of years that somebody’s been in church,” Stephen said. “It’s become obvious over the years that this is what God intends for us to be doing. Somehow, it always works out.”
It might be cold the night of Feb. 22, but there will be a warm glow coming from Holy Name Cathedral.
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