Next month, five choirs from the Diocese of Orange—four elementary school choruses and one adult church choir—will travel to Rome to sing a series of performances tied to landmark celebrations at the Vatican and elsewhere. The singers have been rehearsing for months in anticipation of the rare trip, which will include sightseeing excursions in and around Rome, performances in some of the most significant churches in the Christian world, and possible opportunities—depending on scheduling—to sing in the presence of Pope Francis.
THE FOUR STUDENT CHOIRS
More than 150 student choir members from four diocesan parish schools will join nearly 5,000 other young singers from around the world in late December for a handful of performances in Rome and Vatican City, including the World Peace Day Papal Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica on New Year’s Day.
Locally, the singers will be drawn from the student choirs of Serra Catholic School in Rancho Santa Margarita, St. Edward the Confessor School in Dana Point, St. Cecilia School in Tustin and Mission Basilica School in San Juan Capistrano.
The performances are part of the 40th International Congress of Pueri Cantores, the official student choral organization of the Catholic Church. The congress, held every five years, is open to all choirs that participate in Pueri Cantores, which is open to students ages 9 through 18. Pueri Cantores (“Child Singers”) is headquartered in the Vatican, with federations in 37 countries.
The four school choirs have rehearsed both individually and together as a single massed choir, said Marti Longo, the music director at Serra Catholic School. “We had our final practice together last Tuesday evening at St. Edward’s where we ran through all the songs again,” she said. “All the
songs are in Latin, so it’s kind of complicated to teach it to fourth and fifth graders, but they’ve been doing very well and I’m really proud of them.”
The repertoire for the combined choirs consists of both Mass parts and seasonal songs, said Longo. The singers were conducted and coached in Latin during their fall rehearsals by clinician Patrick Flahive, the past president of Pueri Cantores. “He also taught them handy phrases in Italian, like ‘Where’s the bathroom?’ and ‘How many scoops of gelato do you want?’” said Longo.
The combined choir is scheduled to sing at the opening ceremony of the Pueri Cantores congress at the Castel Sant’Angelo and St. Peter’s Basilica, with other American and Irish choirs at the “Mass of Nations” at the Basilica of St. John Lateran, at a concert at Sant’Eustachio Church, at a “Christmas Around the World” concert in the Sala Nervi in honor of Pope Francis, and at the World Peace Day Papal Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on Jan. 1.
“They’re very excited,” said Longo. “With the recent events in Paris, we’re sitting up a little straighter, but everyone’s very committed to moving forward. I feel so blessed. It’s going to be a great trip, and I’m very excited to participate with these kids and see it through their eyes.
“I think all the directors have worked really hard and we’ve all tried to work together to make this a real group trip from all of Orange County.”
THE ADULT CHURCH CHOIR
The journey of the St. Martin de Porres Church choir essentially began with the appearance months ago of a letter on the desk of the church’s pastor, Father Sy Uy Nguyen. It was from an organization called Music Celebrations International inviting American Catholic Church choirs to submit recordings by way of auditioning for an event the Arizona-based group was organizing: a choral music performance at the Vatican in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the close of the Second Vatican Council.
“I put the word out there to see who might be interested,” said Mark Haas, the Yorba Linda parish’s director of music. “We have three adult choirs and I was hoping to get maybe 20 people out of the 60 voices we have, but we got much more than that.” A total of 35 singers and 25 friends and family members signed up.
The traveling choir from St. Martin de Porres will combine with two other Catholic church choirs from California and another from North Carolina for the performance, making up a chorus of more than 100 voices.
The St. Martin de Porres choir will perform twice while in Rome, said Haas: first at St. Peter’s Basilica at the 12:15 Mass on the Second Sunday of Advent, then two days later on Dec. 8 at the Basilica di Santa Maria Sopra Minerva on the Piazza Della Minerva for the Vatican II anniversary.
The St. Peter’s performance occurs “two days before the announcement of the beginning of the Holy Year of Mercy, we we’re anticipating quite a crowd for the Mass,” said Haas.
The touring choir, said Haas, rehearsed twice a month throughout the summer—a time when the singers don’t usually rehearse—“and we’ve been working at it weekly since then.”
The repertoire for both performances will include “Ave Maria” by Tómas Luis de Victoria, “Alma Redemptoris Mater” by Giovanni Palestrina, “Locus Iste” by Anton Bruckner and Mozart’s “Ave Verum Corpus.”
The choir members “are exhilarated,” said Haas. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Not only to go to Rome, but to sing in St. Peter’s Basilica, is unbelievable.” It will be, he said, the choir’s first tour outside of Orange County in its 30-year history.
“We hope to represent our diocese the best we can,” said Haas, “and I’m sure we will.”