School and Parish Choirs Lead the Way in Musical Excellence

By Schmidt, Jan | Momentum, April/May 2008 | Go to article overview

School and Parish Choirs Lead the Way in Musical Excellence


Schmidt, Jan, Momentum


Catholic school and parish vocal musicians, music teachers and conductors are experiencing a renewed dedication to the treasured beauty and tradition of the great music of the church

Thousands of school and parish choral singers evoking the sound of great European cathedral choirs are making their mark on liturgical music in the United States. These choristers, members of the American Federation Pueri Cantores (AFPC), have grown dramatically in number since 2004 and now include nearly 150 member choirs.

From Savannah to San Francisco, Chicago to Dallas, conductors dedicated to excellence in liturgical music are leading the movement, which is beginning to attract widespread recognition from bishops and educators alike. Acknowledging the importance of high-quality liturgical music in a well-balanced Catholic school or parish vocal music curriculum, music teachers and conductors around the country are experiencing renewed dedication to the treasured beauty and tradition of the great music of the church.

Counting more than a dozen cathedral choirs among its members, Pueri Cantores is the national student choral organization of the Catholic Church in the United States. A conductor-driven organization, it considers its events both inclusive and musically accessible to most school and parish choirs. With a New York festival on the schedule for 2009, this dynamic group is launching its events in the Northeast, with other geographical areas soon to follow.

During the academic year 2007-2008, Pueri Cantores will sponsor festivals and Masses at cathedrals and other large churches in nine locations across the country. Preceding these regional Masses, which welcome groups from two or more dioceses, individual choirs sing selected music during a festival that serves as a prelude to the liturgy. The Mass music, sung by boys and girls ages 8 to 18, is presented as one large combined choir whose repertoire spans 1,500 years-from Gregorian chant to masterworks of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Cardinal Francis George, episcopal moderator of AFPC and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has written:

For choirmasters and music directors, Pueri Cantores can be the fulfillment of desire to bring the voices of young singers to the highest musical standards in the service of God. I remember singing in the Paulist Choir in Chicago as a boy. Worshipping God in song gave me great joy and satisfaction. By participating in Pueri Cantores, every chorister enjoys a similar experience-singing the praise of God with youth in his home church and across the globe.

Internationally, Pueri Cantores, approved by every pope since Pius XII, is headquartered at the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music and includes more than 60,000 singers from 30 countries. Both domestically and around the world, the singers are given an opportunity to share in the musical and liturgical heritage of the Roman Catholic Church, understand more clearly its scope and history, experience more personally the cultural differences and likenesses of the other participants and develop a new dimension in their closeness and commitment to God which they can carry all their lives.

American Festival

In addition to the regional Masses, Washington, D.C.'s, Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception will host the inaugural national American festival on the 2008 July Fourth Weekend. The event, which is open to all U.S. school and parish youth choirs, will feature a massed choir singing a shared repertoire in the largest Catholic church in the Western Hemisphere, directed by nationally recognized conductors John Romeri and Lee Gwozdz of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis and Corpus Christi Cathedral respectively, and Patrick Flahive, AFPC president. Most Rev. Donald W. Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, will preside at the Mass. Singers also will perform a patriotic concert on the National Mall with other singers during an event arranged by Music Celebrations International. …

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