… And the angels sing
The Detroit Opera House was a fitting place for the Sistine Chapel Choir‘s final performance of their 3-city U.S. tour performing original Renaissance music. In the city nicknamed the “Renaissance City,” on the warm, summer-like evening of September 23, Tiger baseball fans, and Red Wing hockey fans and a throng of others enjoying a night on the town, mixed with 2,700 ticket holders headed for the sold-out choir performance.
The Opera House itself is a dramatic story of rebirth. Built as a movie palace in the 1920s, the Italian Renaissance-styled building with vaulted ceilings and large crystal chandeliers had been repurposed several times before it was left abandoned for 11 years. It was ultimately saved from demolition to re-open as an opera house in 1993 thanks to its superior acoustics on par with the grand opera houses of Europe.
It is here where the “pope’s choir, officially named the Cappella Musicale Pontificia Sistina, performed the finale of their 3-city tour beginning in New York, then to Washington, D.C., finishing in Detroit. The choir performed original Renaissance music led by Maestro Monsignor Massimo Palombella, who was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010. Monsignor Palombella isresponsible for bringing back a revival of Renaissance to the choir, with his complete access to the archivesin the Vatican Library holding the world’s most extensive collection of Renaissance music.
First Ever U.S. Tour
The tour was organized by John Hale, president of Corporate Travel and a Legate with the Ann Arbor Chapter. In an interview the day after the 22 men and 29 boys arrived, Hale explained that the choir had last performed in New York 30 years ago. He noted, however, that this was the choir’s first tour in the U.S.. Their other two performances included St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York and the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.
“This is the oldest choir in the world,” Hale explained. “Records from the fifth and sixth centuries show that there were singers as part of the papal entourage, singing at Masses.”
Hale said that the inspiration to coordinate such an undertaking came from his desire to bring people together and point our attention toward God. “There’s so much division in the world,” he said. “The beauty of the arts and music is something we can agree on.”
According to Hale, “It’s like we are arguing over potato chips while God is trying to give us a banquet beyond our comprehension and to show us how we are connected to Him.” Music, Hale said, helps us to raise our eyes to God. “Since we are so divided, the only way we can come together is by putting our eyes on Him,” he said. “I believe that the arts and music is the way we can do that.”
The prelude to the final performance began with Detroit’s large Festival Choir performance of six songs starting with the European Renaissance, “Cantate Domino,” and moving into Detroit Renaissance music. Dressed in white and crimson robes, the Sistine Chapel Choir’s angelic voices executed their program of nine songs in Latin referencing Scripture and all themed to the Renaissance. They received three standing ovations including one after joining with the Festival Chorus for a finale performance of “Tu Es Petrus.”
Following the two-choir song, Archbishop of Detroit Allen H. Vigneron, the head of 1.3 million Catholics, stepped onto the stage with a message delivered in English and then in Italian. “It’s a great honor to host the Sistine Chapel Choir, the pope’s choir,” he said. “This visit is a privileged occasion for the cooperation between the Church, the civic community and the business community to share something beautiful for everyone in the region.
“You have given us a great, great gift,” he said. “It’s a gift that is so important. Hope is fed by beauty and I want to assure you that so often we have needed hope in this community.”
Archbishop Vigneron said he was grateful to the choir for being “evangelists of hope” leading everyone “through this great mystery of our faith with its beauty.”
“On behalf of all of us, I would like to pledge to the Cappella Pontificia Sistina that not only have they given us this gift, but we will try to replicate this gift in our lives by giving witness to the gift of God in our world. “
Two fellow Ann Arbor Legates, Michael T. Ritchie, president of Michigan Market Comerica Bank and Robert Schwartz, vice-president of Ave Maria Mutual Funds, were among the title sponsors of the tour.
Ritchie said he saw it as a “big deal” when Hale brought the opportunity before him last year. “We saw it as an honor to welcome the Sistine Chapel Choir to Detroit,” he said. “Comerica has a strong commitment to Detroit, and we were proud to be a sponsor of the performance, which shined a spotlight on our city both nationally and internationally.”
The visit of the pope’s choir provided Metro Detroiters with a oncein-a-lifetime opportunity to see one of the world’s oldest and most revered choirs, according to Ritchie. “We were very pleased we could help share the choir’s rich history and beauty with metro Detroiters,” he said. “The beauty in music is a natural unifier and the Sistine Chapel Choir certainly presented that to us with their music.”
Schwartz described the tour an “incredible success” and credited the tour organizers as doing a “phenomenal job” of running everything smoothly. “People are thirsting for goodness, beauty and truth,” he said. “Listening to sacred music of this caliber fulfills all of the above.”
Celestial Music – Bridge to Harmony
By traveling to three U.S. cities, Schwartz pointed out that there were multiple opportunities for the faithful to hear world-class sacred music. “The tour was an opportunity to evangelize through sacred music,” Schwartz said. “It really moves you. It was an honor for Ave Maria Mutual Funds to be a National Title Sponsor of this historic visit.”
Matthew Gerlach surprised his wife Michele a couple of hours before the concert with two tickets. They made the hour-long drive from Ypsilanti to attend. “When I wake from sleep of death, I hope to hear singing of the liturgy,” he said following the event. “This concert was a foretaste.”
At the end of the tour, Hale reflected on its success. “I think by all accounts a new dialogue between arts, culture, business and faith was opened,” he said. “We don’t all have to be—and in fact can’t be— afraid of each other or sniping at each other. We have to work together to build what is good and true and beautiful.”
PATTI MAGUIRE ARMSTRONG, who wrote the newly published book, Legatus @ 30, is an award-winning author and Catholic journalist, TV; and radio commentator, and mother of 10.