Evangelizing through music
John Hale’s mighty musical mission brings the Gospel to secular venues . . .
From the halls of Hayden’s Vienna to the shores of Normandy, from the Vatican and Carnegie Hall across the seas to Sydney, John Hale is bringing Catholic music to the wider secular culture – usually with standing ovations.
“One way to draw people to the beauty of the faith and fall in love with God is through the arts,” said Hale, a member of Legatus’ Detroit Chapter. “We can criticize the banal types of music endured today or feature something higher that engages people in God through a musical experience.”
Hale is president of Corporate Travel Services, an agency founded to serve the business community. But for the past 10 years, a division of CTS has been devoted to group tours featuring Catholic choirs that anyone may accompany.
CTS arranges travel and accommodations, secures concert venues, and facilitates publicity. A single tour might bring together a host of choirs under the direction of a single artistic director. Performances attract many music lovers who might not otherwise set foot in a church, where many performances are held. However, even if the venue is secular, the music is sacred — whether chant, classical or contemporary.
“It’s like what the Holy Father said about priests going out of the sacristy and engaging the world,” said John Angotti, a composer and conductor who has worked with Hale for almost 10 years. “Lay Catholics have that mission, too: bringing the Gospel to the world outside the walls of a church.”
Hale concurs. “In the process of serving so many good people, I’m learning a great deal about our faith and musical heritage, both of which I love sharing the world over.”
Hale’s father-in-law, Joseph Di Franco, founded CTS. Although the agency offers business and leisure travel plus educational tours, its musical roots run deep. Di Franco, from whom Hale and his brother-in-law bought the business six years ago, worked with the Grand Ole Opry for 20 years, producing shows and working with Opry talent on cruise ships. Then CTS began branching off into faith-based travel — pilgrimages for parishes and dioceses.
“A number of parish and diocesan choirs wanted to come along and sing,” Hale explained from his office in Dearborn Heights, Mich. “We seized a terrific opportunity.”
First the choirs sang at Masses in places like Notre Dame Cathedral and St. Peter’s Basilica, which already were on the pilgrimage schedule. “Then as we began working with more accomplished choirs, they wanted to have stand-alone concerts. We took our production expertise and gave them the opportunity to sing sacred music on iconic secular stages, from the Sydney Opera House to Carnegie Hall.”
New York City’s Carnegie Hall has become a regular venue for CTS performances. Each year Hale produces a show with a decidedly Catholic theme. Last year 250 singers, professional soloists, and players from the New York Philharmonic presented The Mass of the Children by John Rutter. The year before, they featured Catholic composer and songwriter John Angotti. This year, they’re producing the Hyland Mass in November.
“Taking liturgical music into such a secular setting exemplifies the mission of Jesus,” Angotti said. “We were like missionaries, taking the Gospel into Carnegie by singing a message of hope and harmony.”
Angotti and Hale are planning a performance of his new musical, The Now Testament, a contemporary re-telling of the Old Testament hero Job’s story.
“John Hale is the genuine real deal,” Angotti said. “His charism is very compassionate and gentle. He’s all about service, and if there’s an issue, he always wants to make it right, even if means he has to take a hit. That’s why I like to work with him.”
Hale has also struck a harmonious chord with Stephen Petrunak, music director of St. Blase Catholic Church in Sterling Heights, Mich. He has worked with Hale for the past eight years as an artistic director and conductor. They first met when Hale gave a presentation for Petrunak’s parish music program in 2005.
“Everything we do together has that sense of promoting the Gospel and furthering the Kingdom of God,” said Petrunak, who has been artistic director for several CTS concerts at Carnegie. Now the two are planning a musical pilgrimage to Poland, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia.
Eric Dale Knapp, a New York City-based conductor, said Hale has done a lot for the development of choirs and their ability to tour worldwide.
“He creates great events,” says Knapp. “It’s not easy. One model works in New York, another in Rome. He’s able to identify the differences and respond to them, creating programs that people enjoy participating in. And of course they center on Catholic music. I’m not Catholic myself, but it’s just wonderful.”
D-Day Plus Rome
In June another Hale tour will blow into France for the “2014 Salute to Valor Music Festival” commemorating the 70th anniversary of the D-Day Landing. And next year CTS will ring in the New Year as it hosts the American contingent of the 40th International Congress of Pueri Cantores in Rome, Dec. 26, 2015-Jan. 2, 2016.
Pueri Cantores, the official youth chorale of the Catholic Church with federations in 37 countries, will convene in the Eternal City with 5,000 singers. CTS is arranging travel for upwards of 600 American singers, grades four through 12 — as well as 800 family, friends, and clergy.
“We selected CTS because John cares about more than the travel business,” said Jan Schmidt, executive director of the American Federation of Pueri Cantores. “He cares about our mission. He has the best contacts of any travel agency serving the Vatican. And most important, he’s a devout Catholic himself.”
All of the Pueri Cantores choirs will sing at the World Peace Day Papal Mass at St. Peter’s on New Year’s Day. For the English-speaking choirs, Hale has organized a special “Mass of Nations” at St. Paul Outside the Walls as well as concerts at other Rome churches.
Hale says he’s honored to serve a higher cause.
Singing in Rome, he said, will help these young people “realize the universality of their faith and understand the gift they’ve been given to share as part of the living legacy of our Church. They’re evangelized and they’re also evangelizing. I’m tremendously excited by the opportunity to be part of the transformation in these young Catholics’ lives. It’s very humbling.”
MATTHEW A. RAREY is Legatus magazine’s editorial assistant.