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 CNS Story:

POPE-CHOIRS Apr-8-2008 (790 words) With photo. xxxn

Four choirs rehearse for papal Mass at Nationals Park

Members of a 250-voice choir rehearse at St. Mark's Church in Hyattsville, Md., for Pope Benedict XVI's April 17 Mass at Nationals Park in Washington. (CNS/Rafael Crisostomo, Catholic Standard)

By Moira E. McLaughlin
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In 1979, Camille Frezzo was pregnant with her first child, a girl, as she stood outside the Cathedral of St. Matthew in Washington waiting to catch a glimpse of Pope John Paul II.

"I remember thinking, she's been blessed, even before she was born," she told the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Washington Archdiocese.

On April 17, both Camille and her husband, Ronald, planned to join the 248 other singers in the Archdiocese of Washington's papal choir for the Mass celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI at the baseball stadium Nationals Park.

Also scheduled to sing at the Mass were: an 80-voice gospel choir; a 175-voice children's choir; a 65-voice intercultural choir, performing in French, Zulu and Spanish; soprano Jen Goltz, music director at the Cathedral of St. Matthew; baritone Jose Sacin, a cathedral singer; and Deacon Stephen Bell, who is in formation to be ordained a Paulist priest.

"I am trying to imagine how close we'll be (to the pope)," Frezzo said in an interview a couple of weeks before the Mass. "I have a feeling we'll be working very hard. It will just be so exhilarating to be there; just to be in the presence of the Holy Father is an enormous blessing."

Although Frezzo saw Pope Benedict on a trip to Rome, a chance to be at the stadium was "the ultimate," she said. "Just the sheer joy of singing in a group like that is hard to describe. The first rehearsal, we all heard ourselves (and) we thought this is something really special."

Denyce Graves, a world-famous mezzo-soprano and native of Washington, and Placido Domingo, a world-famous tenor and general director of the Washington National Opera, also were lined up to sing with the choir April 17.

According to Tom Stehle, music director for the papal Mass, Graves' job was to help the crowd transition from the excitement of the day to the prayerful atmosphere of the Mass by singing "We Are One in the Spirit," with just the children's choir joining in at first, then the adult choir and finally the whole stadium.

"It's a simple song but the idea is that it will be used to allow everyone in the stadium to get into prayer with one mind, one heart, one voice. So that even everyone in the stadium will be ready," he said. "It's a very simple song, but it could be extremely profound."

Domingo was scheduled to sing Cesar Franck's "Panis Angelicus" during Communion.

In the days leading up to the Mass, the choir was working "at a very high level of preparation," Stehle said.

Singers often received e-mails after rehearsal, with musical notes. And choristers were not permitted to miss any of the seven rehearsals between March 10 and the pope's visit. Many choristers added sectional rehearsals on their own.

"It's exciting, but it's an opportunity to pray together and be a part of it, not just be a spectator, but actually make it happen," Stehle said.

Deanna Johnson has been a cantor at St. Peter's in Waldorf, Md., for five years. She felt compelled to audition for the papal choir.

"This would be one of the biggest things I will ever do. Singing for the Holy Father -- this would be my ultimate way of giving back for all the blessings I've received, and I pray that the Lord gives me the voice to do it," she said.

Franciscan Brother John Cotelo said he was moved to tears at times singing with the choir.

"All (of a) sudden you feel, our church is so great ... the pope is a gift to the world," he said. "It's a spiritual experience, and it's a challenge. I am thrilled to sing with the group, and sing, sing, sing my heart out."

Even before the Mass, the children's choir, directed by Kathleen DeJardin, was winning praises for its singing; 175 fourth- through eighth-graders from all over the Washington Archdiocese came together to form the choir.

Parishes submitted the names of more than 400 children. The archdiocese then randomly chose the names of those who would make up the choir.

The children rehearsed three songs to sing by themselves at the Mass: an Alleluia, "Send Forth Your Spirit" by Andrew Wright and Mozart's "Ave Verum." They also practiced the Mass parts and some hymns to sing with the adult choir.

For Lissette Escobar, a seventh-grader at St. Mary's in Rockville, Md., "Send Forth Your Spirit" was her favorite piece of the three. "It summarizes what I feel about this whole experience and what (Our) Lord and God really is to me," she said.


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