Choir members from around the Washington, D.C. archdiocese chosen to sing for Pope Francis during his visit later this month hope to stir the soul of the pontiff – and maybe even inspire him to sing along.
“Our purpose is to engage the assembly. It’s to unleash the song of the heart of the people who are gathered there,” said Thomas Stehle, director of music ministries for the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, D.C.
Stehle is the chief of planning music for the papal visit to Washington, D.C. He also served as the director of music for the papal Mass of Pope Benedict XVI in 2008.
“We believe music has a transformative power for those who engage in it. When you think a prayer, that engages a certain part of your body. When you say a prayer, that engages even more. And when you sing a prayer that engages so much more of you,” Stehle continued.
“It has a way of reaching someone’s soul.”
The archdiocesan choir is one of five separate choirs that will sing during the canonization Mass of Junipero Serra on Sept. 23, as well as at other events that day during the Pope’s visit to Washington D.C. The more than 90 participants who will sing for Pope Francis were chosen from over 300 singers who auditioned for Stehle and a panel of choir directors.
Joining the archdiocesan choir at the papal Mass will be the choir for the National Basilica, a gospel choir, an intercultural choir, and chamber choir from The Catholic University of America. The Washington Symphonic Brass and The Catholic University of America Orchestra will also provide music for the Mass and prelude music. In total, more than 300 performers will perform at the Mass.
“The diversity of the mosaic of who we are as Catholics is represented at this event, and it’s quite intentional,” Stehle elaborated.
Also intentional is the music Stehle chose to sing at the Mass and its prelude. Alongside classic Mass parts by Maurice Duruflé and Richard Proulx and arrangements of American hymns by Aaron Copland are works and 19 new compositions by regional composers.
By choosing hymns and settings from around the world, Europe, Latin America and the United States, the choir is “trying to capture the roots of our Pope,” a man who is himself of many different backgrounds and experiences.
“He is the Vicar of Christ, but he’s also the former archbishop of Buenos Aires,” Stehle said.
The singers in the choir told CNA that they were excited for the music they were about to sing, but also for whom they would sing it.
Nixon Garcia said he was “very excited” for many of the pieces, particularly some of the new ones, but also because “I’ve always wanted to be close to the Pope.”
“I’m just really excited to see Pope Francis,” Haley Holden told CNA. This will be her second time singing for a Pope, having sung for Pope Benedict XVI in 2008. “He just reminds me of your grandfather. That warm, inviting, welcoming person.”
“It’s going to be so cool how we’re all going to blend together,” commented Kristin Brown, who is also a music teacher, on the large choir. Brown said she wanted to audition because “I love the Pope.”
“I just think it would be the coolest thing to be on the altar with him singing at Mass.”
Rebecca Vanover, one of the members of the archdiocesan choir, told EWTN News Nightly that she hopes the music is engaging and compelling for Mass participants.
“I hope that they take away the beauty and the ministry that is music at the Mass,” she said. “I hope that they see the value and the importance of it as a liturgical component, but also as a component and an avenue of prayer.”
She also hopes that those that come to the Mass, through the music, find the liturgy “something that they can participate with, and something that’s accessible for them, regardless of language or background knowledge of the Church.”
This call to participation even extents to “engaging Pope Francis- if he feels inclined to sing,” she said.
“I hope the Pope can sing along!”