Christmas Comes Early to Harvard Square

The only Catholic boys’ choir school in the U.S. celebrates the release of its first major album with a performance at a Nov. 15 tree-lighting ceremony.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated since it was first posted.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — When the boys at St. Paul’s Choir School in Cambridge lift their voices in song, the music is “hauntingly beautiful,” according to Kevin Fitzgibbons, co-founder of AimHigher Recordings.

The boys, who attend the only Catholic boys’ choir school in the United States, recently recorded their debut major label and international album in the choir’s 50-year history. To celebrate the release of Christmas in Harvard Square, the boys sang at a tree-lighting ceremony in Massachusetts’ famed Harvard Square on Nov. 15.

On that crisp evening in Winthrop Park, the choir performed several songs and then led the crowd in a Jingle Bells sing-along.


Praising God Through Song

St. Paul’s Choir School, which opened in 1963, seeks to educate young men in grades four through eight by cultivating “music, mind and faith.” People associated with the institution say it is a choir with a school rather than a school with a choir. Singing is an integral part of the curriculum, and the boys study music theory and music history. On top of the rigorous academic program, the students have daily rehearsals and sing for the liturgy a few times each week.

The school enrolls 50 students, 20 of whom are in the choir. The rest are either in training or older boys whose voices have already changed; those young men contribute their musical talents by playing the organ, composing songs and continuing to sing liturgical music outside of the choir.

Two of the choir members — Collin Lapus and Mark Flynn — said their schoolwork presents them with challenges and the opportunity to praise the Lord.

Lapus, 11, moved from Virginia to attend the school, which he heard about because his cousin attended. He said the benefits of the school are that he sings every day and worships God through song.

Flynn, 13, similarly said that the unique experience of attending St. Paul’s has led him “closer to God and the Catholic faith.”


Recording Art

Before the tree lighting, the choir sang, as they often do, at the vigil Mass at St. Paul’s Church, which is connected to the school. Without the help of a sound system, they filled the church with beautiful music that had an otherworldly feel.

In keeping with the tradition they are keen on preserving, the boys wore long red robes and high white collars.

St. Paul’s Church was the site where they recorded Christmas in Harvard Square. It was also the place that Monica Fitzgibbons, Kevin’s wife and the other co-founder of the recording studio, would rest after grueling finals at Boston University when she was a college student. The Christmas music rejuvenated her spirit and reminded her of home. She spoke of those days fondly to her husband, and when he traveled to Boston last year, he made a stop at St. Paul’s.

Monica said the choir has improved since her college days, adding that their music is “absolutely incredible” now. She and Kevin approached the school about making an album with their label.

She said the church itself has “gorgeous acoustics” and was the perfect place to record the CD. She was present for the recording and said she felt that the Holy Spirit was helping them throughout the project. She called the music that the boys produced “art.”


Gift of Great Music

The choir’s director for the last four years, John Robinson, said that boys’ choir music is a “great treasury” that ought to be preserved and cared for.

Robinson grew up in England and was a chorister himself. He said that he knew at the age of 11 that he wanted to be a part of boys’ choir music for the rest of his life. He was assistant organist at Canterbury Cathedral when he heard about the director position at St. Paul’s.

Once in his new position, he sought to build the choir’s repertoire. He calls it the “European approach to choir training.”

“The music itself teaches the boys expression,” he said.

When preparing for the album, he had the boys spend a lot of time rehearsing in the church where the music would be recorded. He spent four months training the boys for the recording.

He is very pleased with the outcome and said that he hopes the work will lead people closer to God through beautiful music. Its beauty may prompt listeners to ask questions about the music’s inspiration — God — he said, adding, “I hope it will bring great joy to people.”

Christine M. Williams writes from Quincy, Massachusetts.