For one member of “the Pope's Choir,” the Catholic Church, while appreciating sacred music, has in some respects lost the art of singing it in her parishes, prompting the need for a revival of traditional style across the world.
“Coming from the UK, I'm used to a choral tradition, it's a great Anglican tradition,” Mark Spyropoulos told CNA, noting that much of the sacred music they sing is written for great Catholic choirs, but “generally, across Europe at least, we've lost touch with that.” “The cathedrals are mostly silent,” he said, and while the Vatican is an exception, “from a personal stance, as a choral singer, I would like to see that tradition revived” in Catholic choirs “because it's absolutely wonderful.”
Originally from London, Spyropoulos has been a member of the Sistine Chapel Choir for two and a half years, and is the first person from Britain to join the choir, which just returned from a tour in the United States, the first in 30 years, which included stops in Washington D.C., New York and Detroit. “I would like to see our touring also promote something of a revival of great Catholic choirs,” he said.
He was present for the Oct. 24 presentation of the choir's annual CD, which this year is titled “Veni Domine: Advent and Christmas at the Sistine Chapel.” When it comes to sacred music, Spyropoulos said he believes it has “a huge place” in the Church, and has much to offer, even outside of an ecclesial context.
Sacred music, he said, “puts young singers in touch with their history, their culture, and it's an inspirational thing to do, not just to be part of it, but to hear it.” Whenever the choir sings, “our intention is that it should inspire people, that people would listen to it and be transported away from the mundane and the banal, and that their minds would be directed to something that is spiritual, beautiful and transcendent,” he said.
The singer shared that in his experience, there isn't just a need for sacred music, but also a desire for it, because “when we sing, people seem to be amazed.” Simply being “the Pope's choir” is enough to attract people, Spyropoulos said, while adding that there also seems to be “more than that” fueling peoples' interest. “This music has such a deep power to it,” he said.
Using the image of a fresco as an example, he said that when people look at one, “it's incredibly beautiful, but when you sing this music it's not like looking at a fresco, it's like being in a fresco, it's like being painted in it — you have to create it, and people listen to that.”
Recalling the choir's recent tour of the United States, the singer said each of their venues were packed, and that highlights from the trip for him were singing in St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York, where they got “a standing ovation from thousands of people, that was wonderful.” He also reflected on singing Evensong in the Anglican parish of St. Thomas on First Avenue, which he said was “a very special moment” given his own background and formation in the Anglican choral tradition.
The people they met in each city, he said, “were so kind and so generous to us all the way through... we were really welcomed so warmly. We had a great time.”
While no official plans have been made, Spyropoulos said there are rumors the choir will return to the U.S., perhaps traveling along the West Coast.