Couple shares faith through music

By Bob Zyskowski | For The Compass | January 3, 2023

Sara and Christopher Hyska cantor at weekend Masses around the diocese

GREEN BAY — During the work week, Sara Hyska is a preschool teacher in Bonduel. Her husband, Christopher, is a project manager at a local environmental laboratory.

On the weekends, the Hyskas make music with flute and voices, cantoring at Catholic parishes around the Diocese of Green Bay.

“We go to Mass every week, and we love to sing,” Sara said, “so what a great way to enjoy Mass.”

Both Green Bay natives took up music early: Sara with the flute in fourth grade and Christopher with the trumpet in fifth grade.

Sara sang in the Green Bay Children’s Choir in middle school, but Christopher only began singing after the couple married. Now both sing in the Dudley Birder Chorale, the adult group at St. Norbert College in De Pere that’s been presenting three or four concerts annually since 1974.

Names: Sara and Christopher Hyska
Parish: St. Joseph, Green Bay
Ages: Sara, 36; Christopher, 35
Favorite Saints: Bernadette (Sara) Francis Xavier (Christopher)
(Bob Zyskowski | For The Compass)

Typically, the couple lead the assembly in song at Mass three or four weekends a month at a variety of parishes.

It’s often just the two of them, but, one Sunday a month, the Hyskas join with pianist Jennifer Poehlmann and soprano Jadwiga Rozewski to provide the music for both the 8:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. Masses at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Green Bay, calling themselves The Praise Group. On a recent Advent Sunday, Sara played flute for some of the hymns and sang for others, and Christopher harmonized with the women in the choir.

“This group brings a special sound,” Maria Hinnendael, director of liturgical music at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, told The Compass. “The four vocal parts is unusual for parishes, with its lush harmonies, and Sara is a great player on the flute. Jennifer selects the music and directs the group, sometimes tweaks the music and composes a bit on her own.”

The music that Advent morning leaned toward the contemporary, but with traditional songs as well: newer hymns by modern composers Steve Angrisano, Sarah Hart, Curtis Stephan and Karen Lafferty, plus the popular “Christ Be Our Light” by Sr. Bernadette Farrell. Some of the service music, however, echoed the traditional words or sounds of the 15th-century Advent hymn “O Come O Come Emmanuel.”

Hinnendael said that while St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parishioners provide much of the music and song leadership at liturgies, bringing in cantors and musicians who serve at other parishes adds variety to the worship experience.

“There’s a misconception about parishioners not wanting new music,” Hinnendael said. “I’m surprised at the comments I get after this group plays. I get incredible feedback on the contemporary music. Generally, what we strive for is a mix, some old, some new, so that there’s something everyone can connect with.”

“I like the mix of genres,” Christopher noted; his singing and life partner, Sara nodded in agreement. “I like a mix, too. The contemporary stuff is really growing on me.”

Do they have favorite composers of liturgical music?

“I love Sarah Hart,” Sara admitted; Christopher settled on Angrisano.

To learn new songs, the Hyskas often go to YouTube. “It’s a great resource,” Christopher said.

When they are scheduled to sing with other voices or other musicians, they will meet for an hour or two to practice. At other times, they’ll practice at home together or for an hour or so at the church before Mass.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish’s pastoral leader, New Genesis Sr. Marla Clercx, said she appreciates that the Hyskas and other members of The Praise Group “don’t just sing, but definitely praise.”

“What strikes me about Sara and Christopher is how deeply rooted in faith they are,” she added, “and that comes out when they sing.”

Only one of the seven or so parishes the Hyskas sing at pays a stipend, but the couple says they aren’t in it for money.

“It’s a service,” Sara said. “We like to sing, and it’s something we really love to do together.”

Their reward is seeing people “enter into” the liturgy through the music, Sara said. “Really feel it,” Christopher chimed in.

Sara said she hopes that people in the pews “connect with the hymns, listen to the text and pray along with the music.”

When the Hyskas make that connection, they know it. Christopher explained: “You can see it in their faces.”

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