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St. Colman's Choir performs at St. Peter's Basilica | (Submitted photo)

Holy See praises St. Colman’s Choir

After recently performing mass at St. Peter’s Basilica, members of a Middlefield choir were complimented by members of the Holy See.

In June, St. Colman’s Choir traveled to Rome to sing a series of concerts culminating in a performance for the pope. And while the choir from St. Colman’s Church in Middlefield did not get an audience with Pope Francis, choir members said the trip to the city where the leaders of their faith was headquartered was a trip to cherish.

When St. Colman’s Choir performed mass in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Music Director Matt Campisi said it was the most nerve-wracking thing he has ever done.

“For me, it wasn’t achieving musical perfection that night,” he said. “It was just about the experience.”

The choir was not allowed to rehearse in the most important church in catholicism. Mass started at 5:15 p.m., and the choir was told to take its place in the left side of the room at 5:13 p.m.

Campisi prepared for this moment to play before cardinals, and other members of the Holy See. He directed the choir in “We Are One in Christ.” It was a simpler piece for the group, one they could have confidence singing as they adjusted to the new space, he said.

Choir member Julia Orosz, senior at Coginchaug High School, said St. Peter’s was filled with gold, a room so large she felt minuscule, a place so large Campisi said 12 St. Colman Churches could fit into one St. Peter’s. This trip was the first time the choir performed in cathedrals, where the sound reverberated and amplified their voices.

Campisi was experiencing the largest rush of adrenaline he ever experienced in performance. He told his choir to not worry about perfection, to simply have the experience of playing in the most important church of their faith.

Next, the choir sang the offertory. They stood, opened their folders and turned to an old Italian hymn, “La Nostra Offerta.” Campisi raised his hands — he doesn’t conduct with a baton — and they began to sing.

“La Nostra Offerta,” our offering in English, was a hymn Campisi heard time and time again growing up in St. Sebastian Church, Middletown. When he became music director for St. Colman’s, he arranged the piece for his choir — the same piece they took to Rome.

Afterwards, the music director for Vatican City, Campisi only knew him as “Maestro Di Capelli,” asked for a copy of Campisi’s arrangement.

“The music director liked what we did with it, so he wanted to take a look at it,” he said.

The choir’s tour manager also told Campisi the cardinal who officiated the mass was impressed by the group. Campisi said the cardinal was happy there was so many young people in the choir, and that made him feel good about the future of the Catholic Church.

The choir also took in the whirlwind of Rome, the cultures converging on Vatican City, the performance for the City of Rome in St. Ignatius’ Church, the architecture, museums filled with maps, tapestries and gold. They saw the pastors in training and the nuns.

The group passed through the Sistine chapel, the cold, darkened room with the work of Michaelangelo floating on the ceiling above.

For Orosz, this was the most powerful moment of the trip.

And while experiencing the goings on in Vatican City, they learned how the city had changed with its new leader, Pope Francis.

On July 23, a Tuesday, Pope Francis did not attend a concert given in his honor. The Associated Press reported that while Pope Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict, loved music, Pope Francis does not care for it.

Campisi said he heard about the pope’s no show at that concert, Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, which was conducted without the pope in attendance.

The next day, St. Colman’s Choir was scheduled to play for the pope. But Holy See policy changed from when they planned the trip. After waiting for four hours, the choir sang for the crowd of 300,000 waiting to see Pope Francis.

Campisi said he was disappointed the choir did not sing for the pope because it was the original reason for the trip, but he understood.

“That’s just the kind of pope he is,” Campisi said. “He’s not interested in all that pomp and circumstance.”

Finally, Pope Francis arrived. He walked around and greeted sections of the crowd. Orosz said the choir was within 30 to 40 feet of the pope, extremely close for the size of the crowd.

Campisi said he thinks Pope Francis will be a popular pope as the pontiff has the same ability to communicate with an audience that President Barack Obama has.

Orosz said the pope looked like he was in his element talking to people, simply interacting with people one-on-one

The Sunday before, the choir saw the pope as he gave his afternoon address in Italian.

“He actually seemed really cool,” Orosz said. “Every time he made a joke, the Italians around me would laugh”

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