September 29, 2017
Master Class with the Sistine Chapel Choir

“First music, and after we speak."

Those were the opening words to Catholic University students during a music workshop offered earlier this month by the world-renowned Sistine Chapel Choir. That statement, spoken by the choir’s director Monsignor Massimo Palombella, was followed by nearly two hours of sacred music dating back to the Renaissance. In between pieces, Monsignor Palombella also explained his personal philosophy of editing and performing such revered works.

Widely known as the oldest choir in the world, the Sistine Chapel Choir continues a tradition of papal music patronage dating at least to the sixth century. Comprising approximately 20 adult singers and 30 boy choristers, the choir performs at significant papal celebrations and liturgies, including Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica.

The choir was visiting Washington, D.C., as part of a three-city tour that included a performance at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The tour marked their first visit to the United States in more than 30 years.

“It’s amazing that they chose to come to our campus and picked our school out of any other Catholic school in the area,” said sophomore music major Emberlein DiSalvo, of Upper Marlboro, Md. “It was inspiring to hear the quality of their voices and how they blend so seamlessly.”

During the workshop and the concert, both held on Sept. 20, the choir performed pieces by 16th- and 17th-century composers Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Orlando di Lasso, Gregorio Allegri, and Tomás Luis de Victoria.

Hearing the choir perform in Caldwell Hall Auditorium was “majestic,” said freshman music major Anselm Black, who studies voice, cello, and piano.

“I’m from Seattle and I sing at St. James Cathedral so I have sung some of the pieces that were performed here today,” he said. “It was incredible hearing them sung to utter perfection, considering tonality and musicality, and replicating the era in which they were first introduced.”

Music Dean Grayson Wagstaff said he was impressed by Monsignor Palombella’s “warmth and delight” while talking to the students, and added that The Catholic University of America is a kind of home for the choir because of a mutual understanding and appreciation for sacred music.

“Some of the music we are about to hear is not only the most important music ever written for the Catholic Church, but some of the most important music ever composed,” he said. “All of the music we hear today somehow grows out of this tradition that the maestro has brought back to the liturgical life of the Vatican.”

The Sistine Chapel Choir concert at the Basilica was organized by the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music and the University’s newly established Catholic Arts Council. It was followed by a fundraising dinner benefiting the council, which was created to promote and support music, art, and drama programming at the University.

Sponsors for the concert included EWTN, which filmed the event as part of its “In Concert” series; Shadd Pianos, USA.; Archdiocese of Washington, DC; Diocese of Arlington; ENSE Group; and St. Mary Catholic Church, Alexandria, Va. The concert will air on EWTN on Saturday, Oct. 21, at 6:30 p.m. ET; Sunday, Oct. 22, at 1:30 p.m. ET; and Friday, Oct. 27, at 10 p.m. ET.