By Donna Sue Berry
“Still, still, still, let all the world be still.” The ethereal sound of young voices fills the air and evokes a vision. Incense at midnight Mass. A night sky lit with choirs of angels in glory. Christmas beauty. The angelic voices that you’re hearing, however, belong to the earthly boys of St. Paul’s Choir School in Harvard Square, Boston. Their newly released album CHRISTMAS IN HARVARD SQUARE is a major debut label and international recording by AimHigher Recordings. Here, Regina Magazine interviews the Choir’s English director John Robinson, and the American producers Monica and Kevin Fitzgibbons about the making of this extraordinary Christmas music.
The Christmas album’s release coincides with the school’s 50th anniversary, the only US Catholic choir school for boys.
Founded in 1963 by Theodore Marier, an internationally acclaimed scholar of Gregorian chant, St. Paul’s Choir School is a musically-intensive, academically-rigorous Catholic day school that forms and educates boys in grades 4 through 8; they sing the week-day masses at St. Paul’s Church.
St Paul’s accepts boys from the greater Boston area and beyond. The boys develop their diverse musical talents for the great glory of God, enriching the liturgical services at Saint Paul Church and serving the community at large by the performance of master works of choral literature.
Once a boy’s voice changes, he enters the Schola Cantorum, singing several times each month and rehearsing each week. The full Choir of St. Paul’s includes professional male altos, tenors and basses who sing the 11a.m. mass on Sundays.
The Choir frequently tours the U.S. and internationally, including performances with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Boston Landmarks Orchestra. They also sang in a papal audience for Pope Francis in 2013.
St Paul’s seeks to embrace the great cathedral school and rich music tradition of the Church as well as teaching faith and moral tradition.
The Choir school is closely tied to St Paul Parish in Cambridge and both are overseen by Father Michael Drea, who additionally oversees the Harvard Catholic Center.
John Robinson is responsible for the Choir of St. Paul’s in daily sung Mass and oversees the thriving church and school music departments. Mr. Robinson initially was a chorister and organ pupil of Dr. Roy Massey at Hereford Cathedral in England, later Organ Scholar at Canterbury Cathedral and subsequently at St John’ College Cambridge. On graduating Cambridge, he worked at Carlisle and Canterbury Cathedrals, and has also directed Catholic Youth Music festivals.*
Mr. Robinson, the Choir’s music is beautiful; such amazing young men. What is it like to do this work?
Thank you very much for your kind words, which mean so much. I have to say that really this is work which is my favorite thing to do in the world. I have felt that my vocation is to train young singers for as long as I can remember, and everything has come into focus for me so much more since getting the opportunity to work at this unique Choir School.
Tell us about your work today.
The work is very enjoyable because the boys are coming to this music for the first time. It takes great care and preparation to sing this kind of music, and we always feel that we should try to do our best because this gift from God should be offered up as well as we are able.
I think my biggest thrill is always when things go well with the music at Mass. There is truly no situation that is more important, and so when you think about it, that daily routine of singing at Mass is what keeps us going. Sometimes we see people in tears during a Communion Motet we might be singing, and we are thankful for being given the opportunity to worship with such beautiful music.
“OUR BEST EXPERIENCE TO DATE WAS SINGING IN ROME FOR POPE FRANCIS. Of course, as Catholics, it doesn’t come much better than that, but that whole atmosphere in which the prayers of thousands of people are lifted up is an unforgettable feeling.”
The Choir School recorded during the time the ‘Black Mass’ was scheduled to be held on Harvard’s campus. What was the emotional atmosphere within the Choir school during that time?
Whilst we were certainly shielding the boys as much as possible, it was important they understood the severity of the situation, and that we were called to respond prayerfully and peacefully.
As a community we were so utterly horrified by the situation, I still really don’t like talking about it. Of course, God is good and gave us the most moving procession and holy hour I have ever seen. There was literally not a dry eye in the Church, as the Blessed Sacrament was brought over from the MIT Chapel in a show of Catholic solidarity, which was truly impressive to everyone.
During the making of the recording I think there was a clear sense of doing something good and beautiful in the face of this evil, which only served to intensify our efforts to show the world how good God is. I was very glad the boys saw the immense strength of the Church that evening.
“Boys at St. Paul’s School are seeing everything through new eyes, and the legacy of great and beautiful Catholic music which has been left to us is a truly remarkable gift.” – Mr. John Robinson
With several No. 1 Billboard Classical Traditional albums under their belt, this year De Montfort Music teamed up with sister label Aim-Higher Recordings and Decca Records to record the angelic music of the boys of St Paul’s Choir School. Monica and Kevin Fitzgibbons, founders De Montfort Music and AimHigher Recordings, spoke with Regina Magazine about their hands-on experience with the Choir.
What have been your most memorable moments on this project?
I remember one evening when the boys were preparing to sing in Harvard Square for the lighting of the Christmas tree. The event had many different moving parts and at one point we learned that battery-operated candles needed extra batteries. I was preparing these, when I suddenly heard the boys in the next room praying the Hail Mary before they warmed up their voices. It was a small moment but a large and a special one. I prayed along with them in thanksgiving for what Our Lady was doing to bring us together in this way.
Also, when we started to hear the takes from the recording sessions and we realized how extraordinary and true to life their recording was going to be. We had talked about recording them for quite some time but wanted it to be very spectacular and capture that emotion one experiences at St. Paul’s during the Mass or any situation in which they sing there. Knowing we were going to be able to share with others this special experience we had been so blessed to have in our own lives…hearing it unfold was thrilling!
Monica and Kevin Fitzgibbons, cofounders of AimHigher Entertainment
CHRISTMAS IN HARVARD SQUARE is a 19-track album featuring both traditional and contemporary arrangements such as O Come, All Ye Faithful, Dominus Dixit and Angels We Have Heard on High. Ordering from St. Paul’s Choir School’s website will ensure that a portion of the proceeds will go towards St. Paul’s Choir School.
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