Thursday, March 07, 2019 - Updated: 3:33 pm
A unique experience awaits Catholic youth choir members in southwestern Pennsylvania at the end of March.
School and parish choir members in fourth through 12th grades are invited to participate in an American Federation Pueri Cantores Choral Festival and Mass for mixed-voice and treble choirs Saturday, March 30, at St. Paul Cathedral in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood.
Starting with registration and lunch at noon, choir members will participate in a day of intensive rehearsals and advanced training in liturgical music spanning 1,500 years — from Gregorian chant to music of the 21st century.
Directors of local youth choirs, who have already been working with their singers through digital music files provided by the program, will assist during the day.
The event will culminate with the young voices raised in song at the 6 p.m. cathedral Mass, with Bishop David Zubik as the main celebrant. The bishop is episcopal moderator of the American Federation Pueri Cantores, taking over a few years ago when the previous moderator, Chicago Cardinal Francis George, died.
The day’s conductor will be Paul French, music director at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Chicago and AFPC board president. He has composed more than 200 choral and orchestral works, and served as a faculty member of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians Choir Director Institutes for more than 10 years.
French said he is excited to conduct at St. Paul Cathedral and work with Donald Fellows, music director at the cathedral parish, who will be the organist for the liturgy and during rehearsals.
“St. Paul Cathedral is one of the most glorious sacred spaces in the United States,” French said, “and the opportunity for these young people to sing in such a noble sanctuary will surely be a thrilling experience, both for the singers and all who are witness to the beauty they will create.”
He said he looks forward to hearing Fellows play the cathedral’s renowned Rudolf von Beckerath organ.
“Don is a superb musician, and it will be a treat for these choristers to hear the inspired playing of a world-class organist,” French said.
Fellows said he also anticipates an extraordinary day for the young singers.
“Although it may be the first and only time such a gathering will take place, the day stays in the memories of singers of all ages,” he said.
“Bringing together choir members from around the region will make it possible for them to sing repertoire that otherwise may be unattainable,” Fellows said. “Under the expert leadership of Mr. Paul French, the students will concentrate on ensemble techniques and vocal styles during the day-long intensive event.”
He hopes that the choral festival will have a positive impact on the future of liturgical music in the Diocese of Pittsburgh.
“We hope that by bringing Pueri Cantores to our diocese, we may be able to plant the seed for new energy in the development of children’s choirs in our schools and in our parishes,” Fellows said.
French noted that the American Federation Pueri Cantores — Latin for “young singers” — is a leading affiliate of Pueri Cantores International, the official student choral organization of the Catholic Church.
Founded in 1953 in France, AFPC is the second-largest Pueri Cantores national federation worldwide (out of 37), with nearly 225 member choirs serving thousands of students in more than 70 U.S. dioceses.
Periodically, Pueri Cantores International gathers singers in Rome to sing for the pope. One such trip was sponsored in late December 2015-early January 2016, when 2,000 choir members sang for Pope Francis. The next gathering at the Vatican is planned for 2022.
French said one of the Pittsburgh highlights will be seeing Bishop Zubik, who he called a “hero of this event.”
“Bishop Zubik is the episcopal moderator of AFPC, and over the past years has led the charge to encourage his fellow bishops to put their voices and financial support behind this organization,” he said.
Dr. Patrick Joyce, director of stewardship for the Diocese of Pittsburgh, said the bishop has been persistent in sending out letters to U.S. dioceses and archdioceses seeking a monetary commitment to ensure future solvency of AFPC.
“The most exciting part of this story? Fifty-three dioceses and archdioceses have given as partners in this thing,” Joyce said. “Ten or 12 of them now have given at least twice, four have given three times.”
He said the individual singers at the choral festivals pay $25 to participate, and their choirs pay $150. But those fees don’t come close to covering all of the organization’s expenses. That’s why donors are needed.
“People who love music and love sacred music are encouraged to support this ministry because it’s not free, and we need to help provide scholarships for kids who can’t afford the $25, or whose choirs can’t afford the $150,” he said.
Anyone who would like to support the choir festival and allow more children to participate can call Joyce at 412-456-3085.