A new set of young voices is emerging from the Diocese of Orange, ready to sing the Lord’s praises.
The newly formed Diocesan Children’s Choir features 50 young singers from 17 Orange County parishes, who have been rehearsing nearly every Saturday morning since September to prepare for upcoming Masses and concerts.
“They are the bishop’s choir; they represent all children from our parishes at special diocesan events,” says John Romeri, director of Music Ministries for Christ Cathedral in Garden Grove.
This musical endeavor began in the fall when Romeri founded the Diocesan Children’s Choir as part of his work as Cathedral Director of Music. Romeri — whose credentials include serving as director of Liturgical Music for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and director of the Office of Sacred Music for the Archdiocese of Saint Louis — was hired in December 2015 to develop the cathedral music program for Christ Cathedral, the parish moving into the former Crystal Cathedral building.
The children’s choir is part of that effort.
All 50 singers passed an audition that included matching pitch, some musical knowledge and music reading skills. Most were recommended from choir directors at parishes.
Andre Lombardi, a 10-year-old Irvine resident whose home parish is Our Lady Queen of Angels, was among the first to audition and be selected to join the children’s choir.
“He loves it and looks forward to it,” says his mother, Liza Lombardi, adding that her son first learned about the choir through a weeklong children’s choir camp Romeri organized this past summer with 57 children from around the diocese.
The choir has not only deepened his love for music but his faith as well, his mother says.
“Andre has a passion for music and he’s looking forward to growing with this group,” says Lombardi, adding that her son likes helping other singers in the choir.
Lombardi says she likes Romeri’s teaching approach.
“What makes it fun is that Dr. Romeri engages the children,” she says. “He’s a little strict, but that’s okay because this isn’t a play choir. This is a professional children’s choir. But he makes it fun during rehearsals.”
Fr. Christopher Smith, rector at Christ Cathedral, agrees.
“The kids have a good time when they’re learning,” Smith says. “He’s great at motivating them to be the best they can be. It’s a rare combination of a professional musician who not only has the capacity to work with adults but also children at the level they understand.”
The result has been remarkable, Smith says, recalling hearing the children for the first time under Romeri’s tutelage. Fr. Smith was the priest who celebrated the mass that ended the summer choir camp where many of the choir singers got their start with Romeri.
“I could barely get the sign of the cross out at the beginning of the mass because I was choking up because they were so beautiful,” Fr. Smith says.
Children in the Diocesan Choir will be schooled in the great music of the Roman Catholic Faith, which include “everything from chant to the splendid compositions of the 20th and 21st century,” Romeri says.
A children’s choir is important in developing the next generation of singers and introducing children to a wealth of religious music, Romeri says.
“Adult choirs come from trained children,” he says. “Our Liturgy is a sung liturgy (in) its very nature. Training children in the great sacred music of our faith is essential, especially for the life of a cathedral, where the great treasury of sacred music must be sung. Our Church has 500 years of sacred music. Most kids are only exposed to music which sounds the same as any music in the secular world.”
The new choir, which sings classical sacred music, has sung on at least three different occasions so far, including the “Christmas at the Cathedral” at Christ Cathedral on Dec. 16, an evening concert that featured 175 singers and orchestra members from all of the cathedral choirs.
In addition to a Saturday evening Mass each month at Christ Cathedral, the choir will sing at the request of Bishop Kevin Vann.
“Pro-Life Mass and 24 Hours with the Lord are presently on their calendar,” Romeri says. “Once we move into the cathedral and have more space, they will join the Diocesan Adult Choir at Chrism Mass and ordinations.”
The choir is also preparing for a regional festival this spring and will be singing in Rome on Epiphany 2018 with the Sistine Choir and Pope Francis, Romeri says.
The choir’s success is music to Fr. Smith’s ears.
“The enhancement that choirs give to the liturgy is something that’s really important, especially with children because if children learn at a young age how to give praise to God with their musical abilities, then that’s something that could stay with them their whole lives,” says Smith, who was also part of choirs and played the organ in his youth. “And I’m supportive of that kind of effort.”
Children who are interested in trying out for the Diocesan Children’s Choir can either wait for group auditions in late August, or audition on an individual basis. Call the Music Office at 714-971-2141, Ext. 5529 for more information.