Children's Schola Sings at World Youth Day

Connecticut youth participate at Masses in Madrid.

A group of 25 students from the New York-Connecticut area were blessed to sing at World Youth Day in Madrid.

The Norwalk, Conn.-based St. Mary’s Student Schola was eager to share what they’ve learned and practiced: Gregorian chant, Renaissance polyphony, and parts of the Mass set to music by great composers such as William Byrd, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Josquin de Prez.

The group has already made such a name for themselves that they were invited by Archbishop Braulio Rodriguez of Toledo, the primate of Spain, to sing at the Cathedral of St. Mary of Toledo.

They were also scheduled to go to Avila to sing at Mass on the feast of the Assumption at the Monasterio de la Encarnación (Monastery of the Incarnation), where St. Teresa of Jesus entered the Carmelites. Then, in Madrid, they sang for the solemn high Mass in the extraordinary form for WYD pilgrims.

Based at St. Mary’s Church in Norwalk, Conn., this schola of youngsters sings Gregorian chant and Renaissance polyphony so beautifully that the Sisters of Life and the Knights of Columbus invited them to be the choir for the main English-speaking Masses at World Youth Day at the Palacio de Deportes. Some of the Sisters of Life, who are based in New York and run a retreat house in Stamford, Conn., joined them for some of the singing in Madrid.

For the schola’s founder-director David Hughes, the invitations to sing in Spain “confirm that this is a good work to be done in the service of the Lord and the Church.” Hughes is choirmaster for all seven choirs at St. Mary’s, which have adult-professional and adult-volunteer divisions.

The 25 singers going to Spain are the most advanced of the St. Mary’s Student Schola’s 75 children. They range in age from 9 to 18, with the average being 12-13.

Hughes said, “For these young children, to offer this gift is a great honor, and also a source of great excitement, too.”

The choir hoped that it will inspire WYD pilgrims to want to hear more of the Church’s sung prayer. That was one of the reasons the Sisters of Life invited the schola to Spain.

“In addition to traditional hymns in English, we wanted to present to the youth beautifully sung Gregorian chant and polyphony as exemplary models of the Church’s music, and it just so happens St. Mary’s Student Schola specializes in this type of music,” said Sister Mary Concepta, coordinator of liturgy and music for the Sisters of Life, who sang with the schola on previous occasions, including once at St. Vincent Ferrer Church in New York City.

Members of the schola shared the same hope, as did their parents and their director. Laurie Furey, whose 11-year-old son Alex sang, saw this as “a marvelous opportunity to introduce chant to a wider audience, especially through
these children, because they really love it, and it comes through in
the singing.”

There’s no doubt why Alex sings. “I love the music,” he said.
“It just sounds beautiful. It’s awesome. We’re really doing it for the greater honor and glory of God than for a concert.”

Fourteen-year-old Abigail Anderson wanted youth to see that Gregorian chant is not outdated. She was accompanied to Madrid by her 16-year-old sister Isabel and 12-year-old sister Ana, who are also schola members.

“Beautiful music is the same throughout the centuries,” said Abigail.

Hughes got the children involved in this ancient music a mere three years ago, when he launched a summer “Chant Camp” at St. Mary’s Church. Those first 30 youngsters were so enthusiastic that he began the Student Schola during the fall of 2008.

Since then, the schola has grown steadily. Many of the singers are from home-schooling families from several towns and cities in Connecticut and New York. The schola sings monthly at the parish’s Mass in the extraordinary form and, for special occasions, joins the church’s professional schola.

The young singers recorded a CD in April to help raise funds for WYD, to offset the expense, since some families had several children making the trip.

Hughes says his choir perceives the real beauty of the music: “They understand in a visceral way that this is the sung prayer of the Church, the sacred music par excellence of the Church.”

As the schola sings prayerfully, Father Greg Markey, pastor of St. Mary’s, said they’re a great example that “children can know and love the Tradition of the Church. We don’t need pop music to win children over to the beauty of our faith.”

Joseph Pronechen writes from Trumbull, Connecticut.