Usually, when people walk into a church, they notice the vaulted ceilings, candlelit alter and the colored lights filtering through ornately stained windows. Visually, churches are soft and warm. Audibly, they echo with hushed conversations and creaking floorboards.
The first thing most people feel, however, is the music. Our Lady Star of the Sea’s choir director, Jim Goodell, said the “feeling” part means he is doing his job right.
“When you start getting drowned out by the congregation, we are just starting to do our job,” Goodell said. “The most magical times I've had as a liturgical musician is when I get drowned out and now my role has changed from a leader to just one of the folks in the pews.”
Goodell currently co-directs with his wife, Chris, four different choir ensembles as well as a chancel. He starts with a 5:30 p.m. mass on Saturdays doing adult contemporary music, then, a 7:30 a.m. Sun Risers group, a 9 a.m. youth ensemble, the 11 a.m. traditional chancel choir and, finally, a 5:30 p.m. young adult contemporary band named Grace. Currently, this is his regular schedule following a career as the CEO of Goodell Group, a professional development organization, and running the Bella Voce Cabaret entertainment company. Chris Goodell is also a full-time professor of business at Florida State College of Jacksonville. This “27/7 type of life” that Goodell has created is actually his dream job. One he left being the vice president of Merrill Lynch to pursue.
“Once we started cutting the cord from mother Merrill, we went into this adventure of creating our own businesses,” Goodell said.
The common thread running between all of Goodell’s enterprises has been a strong sense of building community through music. When he isn’t at Our Lady Star of the Sea, he is using music as a team building exercise at local companies. As someone classically trained to sing opera, Goodell has taught himself the secret of utilizing music to strengthen interpersonal connections rather than taking center stage. As a musician, this is not something that comes easily. As a church choir musician, however, this is something he takes very seriously.
“It's about delivering it with humility and giving your best,” Goodell said. “It's a challenge sometimes for professional musicians that serve at church because when you're a professional musician, it's about you. That's why you get paid. But when you serve a church, it's not about you. It's about getting out of the way of it and letting the music enhance what's going on at the altar.”
Community is what runs through the heart of every church. Goodell directs the choir with this in mind. When he is approached by residents wanting to participate in the choir, he stays true to this mindset.
“When people express an interest with helping with liturgical music, instead of saying, ‘here is what we have, see if you can fit into it,’ we actually ask them what they are interested in,” Goodell said. “What is their talent? That is how the five ensembles came to be. It was sort of, 'We'll build it based on what you're bringing.’”
Goodell said that just because he strives to find positions for those interested, doesn’t mean that the quality suffers. He has choir members that attended The Juilliard School of Music and have worked professionally in the music industry. Goodell said that in fact, the choir has enhanced mass by adding variety and talent.
“People will say, 'You know, I’ve been to a lot of churches and I really experience my faith in a deep way when I come to this church and the music is a big part of it,'” Goodell said. “It just touches them.”
He is quick not to gloat about his ensembles for too long, however.
“Our job is to lead the music so that the congregation is fully participating,” he said. “Or at least they feel welcome to do that. It’s not a performance. Our goal is to worship.”