Detroiters wowed by Sistine Chapel Choir’s ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ visit

The Sistine Chapel Choir performs Sept. 22 at Ste. Anne Parish in southwest Detroit, one of the choir’s three Detroit performances during its historic, three-city U.S. tour. The Cappella Musicale Pontificia Sistina, as it is officially known, is the pope’s personal choir and the oldest in the world, dating to at least 1471.
Dan Meloy | The Michigan Catholic

Detroit — Stunning. Inspiring. Incredible. Contemplative. Divine.

Detroiters have a hard time expressing what it’s like witnessing the Sistine Chapel Choir in person. But they are certain of one thing: the pope’s choir leaves an impression.

“Seeing the Sistine Chapel Choir perform live was a fantastic, wonderful experience that’s really hard to explain,” said Patricia Gajewski, who works in the education department at the University of Detroit Mercy and saw the pope’s choir perform at Ste. Anne Parish on Sept. 22. “The choir wasn’t (in the United States) for 30 years, and I knew I was sharing something that was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

The Friday performance at Ste. Anne was a chance for Detroiters to see the renaissance choir perform for free in a parish whose roots date back nearly to the Renaissance itself.

The choir opened with Cantus Gregorianus’ Gaudete In Domino and performed Miserere by Gregorio Allegri, among other classics.

“What inspired me was hearing these magnificent voices in a building with acoustics like this,” said Patricia Hand, who works at Sacred Heart Major Seminary. “You could hear the articulation, you could hear every word. Even though I didn’t understand the Latin, you can still hear every word.”

Glenn Miller, a local music director and organist, was tapped by Archdiocese of Detroit director of music Joe Balistreri to emcee the Ste. Anne performance. After the concert he expressed in his iconic basso profundo voice what it means as a musician to introduce the Sistine Chapel Choir.

“It’s such an amazing choir to create such a beautiful, deep, spiritual event,” Miller told The Michigan Catholic. “I heard the choir in the afternoon doing a sound check, and it was just amazing to hear the choir sing these pieces of music, knowing these pieces of music were written with a choir like this in mind. And to have them perform at a parish established in 1701, not long after these pieces of music were written, it was just mind-boggling.”

As a prelude to the choir’s Saturday performance at the Detroit Opera House, nearly 300 singers from both local and out-of-state choirs had the opportunity to life their voices as part of a “collaboration choir” conducted by Balistreri.

The choir’s set included “O Radiant Light” by Norah Duncan IV and finished with “My Soul’s Been Anchored in the Lord” by Moses Hogan.

“To sing at the Opera House is spectacular, but to sing with a group of that caliber is outstanding,” said Margaret Reese of Southfield, a member of the collaboration choir. “It was most outstanding hearing the variety of choirs showcasing a variety of different styles, (Mosaic Youth Singers) to the choirs from Arizona and Florida, and the University of Michigan choir before the Sistine Chapel Choir’s performance.”

When the Sistine Chapel Choir took the stage at the Detroit Opera House, concert goers were amazed by the renditions of Adoramus Te Christe by Orlando di Lasso and Giavanni Pierluigi da Palestrina’s Sicut Cervus and Exsultate Deo before finishing with the finale, Lorenzo Perosi’s Tue Es Petrus.

Patrice Tay and her mother, Marguerite Pollock, were in the audience for the choir’s Saturday performance at the Opera House after Tay’s husband, David, won tickets from The Michigan Catholic’s ticket giveaway contest.

“The concert went beyond expectations, and I was really looking forward to it,” said Tay, a member of St. Andrew Parish in Rochester. “I most appreciated the music itself and the explanation before each song. Knowing they sing for the Holy Father and they sing around the world, their talent and knowledge was so wonderful.”

Audience members react with emotion as the choir performs at Ste. Anne Parish.

Tay explained when David, executive director of the Men of the Sacred Heart’s Detroit chapter, won, her mother became ecstatic when he offered the tickets to her and her daughter.

“Dave was the winner, but my mom really wanted to go,” Tay said. “And she absolutely loved it. She said, ‘I probably should say you two should go, but I won’t.’ She loved the entire evening and will enjoy it after the fact.”

The choir finished their trinity of appearances on Sunday, singing at the 11 a.m. Mass at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament with Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron presiding.

Members of archdiocesan Central Services and staff at parishes throughout the city were offered tickets for the Mass, an opportunity to celebrate the Eucharist with the pope’s choir.

“I thought having the choir here had an extra special value to the Mass,” said Sr. Jacquie Wetherholt, CSJ. “It’s the music, the mediation, the opportunity to let yourself be part of the Mass in a very special way. I got this ticket from my pastor, knowing I would probably never have this opportunity again.”

The choir’s visit to Detroit was more than a cultural exchange, but a chance for Detroit-area Catholics to contemplate the gifts God has given them, Archbishop Vigneron said afterward.

“Having the choir at Mass allows us to first contemplate how it’s important for us to identify where we can contribute and what can we offer to God,” Archbishop Vigneron told The Michigan Catholic. “It’s an impetus to work to cultivate that talent, to put it at God’s disposal.”

Archbishop Vigneron said he’ll remember maestro Msgr. Massimo Palombella’s own harmonization of the Gregorian Chant, putting a modern twist on the ancient form of music.

“Being a witness to the beauty of the choir’s music encourages us all to have more hope,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “Beauty is the food for hope. Whenever we celebrate the liturgy, we’re with the worldwide Church. Not just listening, but praying with the choir in communion.

“I hope the choir leaves Detroit encouraged, with a sense that their work is appreciated. I hope they notice how vibrant our Church is. How alive the Church is.”