Chorale to perform in St. Peter's
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By Loren Moreno
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Loren Moreno
Dozens of young singers at Punahou School have been preparing for months for a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Italy, where they will sing during Mass at St. Peter's Basilica.
Students have been raising money and rehearsing for their March 19 appearance at the Vatican — possibly the first time a Hawai'i school group has been invited to sing a Sunday Mass at St. Peter's, one of Roman Catholicism's most revered sites. It is where Pope John Paul II lay in state after his death in April and he was buried within its walls.
Local Catholics are calling the invitation to sing from the cantor of the Vatican an honor.
"It's a great thing they are going to do," Honolulu's Rev. Joseph Grimaldi said.
Philip Nako, a Punahou senior, said after a choral rehearsal yesterday that students are excited about the trip but are also nervous, especially since they will be singing in Latin.
"Not only do you have to learn another language, but we have half the time to learn (the music) since we're going to Italy in March," said Nako.
Chorale director Corin Overland said the 65-member group will also sing in English and Italian at other venues in Italy.
"Most of them are fairly fluent in reading and pronouncing Latin, although they may not know what most of it means," said Overland.
Patrick Downes, spokesman for the Diocese of Honolulu, said this is the first school group from Hawai'i he can recall that has been given the opportunity to sing during a Mass at St. Peter's Basilica. Last May, an Island church choir sang at the basilica for the beatification of Mother Marianne Cope of Moloka'i.
This is the first international trip in almost 20 years for the Punahou Chorale, Overland said.
Two other Punahou music groups also have received prestigious invitations. The marching band was selected to represent Hawai'i at the Tournament of Roses Parade on New Year's Day 2007. And on Wednesday, Punahou's Symphony String Orchestra will perform at the Hawai'i Theatre with other musicians in a taping of National Public Radio's popular show "From the Top." The performance will be broadcast at a later date on KHPR (81.1 FM).
"It is rare for one group to do something significant outside of the state, but to have all three of our major groups perform at a high level all at once is extraordinary," said Darin Au, Punahou's music director.
Overland said the school began planning for the Italy trip about a year ago through a travel agency that specializes in performance groups. Travel agents suggested sending a recording of the group to their liaison in Rome, who could submit the group's recording to the Vatican for consideration.
Overland said students were "stoked" when they found out they had been approved by the Vatican cantor to sing during the 5:30 p.m. Sunday Mass at St. Peter's Basilica.
"This is really kind of an honor," said Overland. "More often than not, they leave the Sunday Masses to those they can trust."
The chorale will perform on a significant day for Catholics in Europe — the Feast of St. Joseph. Europeans celebrate Father's Day on the Feast of St. Joseph, honoring him as the foster father of Jesus, Grimaldi said.
"Because of that, the Feast of St. Joseph takes on a great deal of importance," he said.
Grimaldi, the recently appointed pastor of the Punahou-Manoa Catholic community, said the feast will surely draw a crowd of hundreds to the basilica's altar, where the group will perform. Grimaldi recently spent a few years in Rome and is familiar with the Vatican and the basilica.
St. Peter's Basilica is the home of numerous works of art and houses the famous Bernini Baldacchino, a canopy above the papal altar. The baldacchino also marks the spot where Catholics believe St. Peter, the first pope, is buried.
While it is not yet known at which altar Punahou's Chorale will perform, it is unlikely it will be at the main papal altar, said Overland.
Instead, the group will likely perform at one of more than a dozen smaller altars in the basilica, all of which are much larger than any altar in Hawai'i, said Grimaldi.
Overland said the chorale will likely sing at various points throughout the Mass, but has not yet been notified of the exact procedures. Male members will wear tuxedos and females will wear formal black dresses, he said.
The group has nearly eight musical pieces still left to learn or perfect, said Overland, four of which will be chosen for use at the Vatican. One piece they will probably perform, "Super Flumina Babylonis (By the Waters of Babylon)," was written in the 14th century by Italian composer Giovanni Palestrina, known for his liturgical music.
Wil Tafolo, 17, has been singing with the chorale for four years and said stress levels are rising as the date of the trip creeps closer. Students will be practicing five times a week for an hour a day until the trip.
But the students are not relying solely on group rehearsals, said Tafolo. "Individual preparation is needed much more for this trip," he said.
Meanwhile, some students said they are intimidated by the idea of singing in Italian and Latin in the birthplace of both languages.
Jeanette Hall, 17, said she remembered listening to a Japanese group singing in English last year. "They tried to sing English and it sounded butchered," she said. "I'm kind of thinking that's what we might be like in Italy."
Overland said students are simply excited to be going to Italy but the trip was made all the more special when they found out they would be performing at the largest Roman Catholic church in the world.
"This is literally a once-in-a-lifetime experience for them. To be able to perform in a sacred space like this is really kind of rare," he said.
Reach Loren Moreno at firstname.lastname@example.org.