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Pope’s Choir Tours US as It Recaptures Its Glory

The choir of Sistine Chapel is seen before the arrival of Pope Francis to lead the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord Mass in Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Feb. 2, 2017.

The Vatican’s Sistine Chapel Choir is embarking on its first U.S. tour in 30 years, hoping to show audiences in New York, Washington and Detroit that it has abandoned the habits that earned it a reputation as the “Sistine Screamers.”

The group of 20 adults and 30 boys, colloquially known as the “Pope’s Choir,” is the world’s oldest choir. It started singing for pontiffs about 500 years ago. Today, the choir performs regularly in the Sistine Chapel below Michelangelo’s masterpieces, at Masses the pope celebrates in St. Peter’s Basilica and for international concert appearances.

Return to early glory

Hearing the singers’ dulcet tones today, it’s hard to imagine they earned the nickname the “Sistine Screamers” a few years ago for their habit of belting out their numbers operatically, relying on volume instead of technique.

Maestro Massimo Palombella, as choir master, will lead the Sistine Chapel choir on its first U.S. tour in 30 years.
Maestro Massimo Palombella, as choir master, will lead the Sistine Chapel choir on its first U.S. tour in 30 years.

“Truly, they were singing in a manner that had no relation to the old music,” choir master Monsignor Massimo Palombella said.

To return the choir to its early glory in the 16th century, when the group attracted the best singers in Europe, Palombella did extensive research. He sifted through the Vatican archives, studying music manuscripts and analyzing the handwriting of Renaissance composers.

Members from many countries

These days, the choir once again is drawing talent. Its current members include singers from Poland, Britain, Brazil and Argentina. Diegogaston Zamediom says being the first Argentine singer in the choir of the first Argentine pope is the “maximum of the maximum.”

Palombella, who was named choir master in 2010 and was recently reconfirmed, hopes the concerts in the U.S. will effectively “communicate the image of God and spirituality that this music brings with it.”

Enrico Torre, a 27-year-old alto, said he is looking forward to visiting New York so he can catch a Broadway musical.

See related VOA video report:

Pope's Choir Prepares for First US Tour in 30 Years
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