Monday, July 01, 2013

Behind the Vatican Walls with Fr. Pierre Paul

A highlight of my trip to Rome to present at the Sacra Liturgia conference was finally meeting the great conductor Fr. Pierre Paul. We had been corresponding for years, about the time he instituted broad reforms of the music in St. Peter's Basilica, resulting in a huge upgrade in the quality of liturgy at the Vatican. His choir the Capella Giulia performs at most every liturgy at which the Pope is not specifically present for some big occasion. Gregorian chant is consistently heard now every day in the Vatican, at Mass and Vespers, thanks largely to his tireless work. By the time we met, I had a sense of his being an old and dear friend.

Here I am outside the Vatican walls waiting for the Maestro to escort our small party back.

Here is Fr. Paul showing us some artwork in his office.

One might expect that the rehearsal room for the choir would be huge and opulent. On the contrary, it is tiny and fairly primitive, and mostly consists of large and expansive racks containing the musical programs for the liturgical year. Fr. Paul makes every one of the them. The space for the choir to rehearse is very small actually, much smaller than that given to the average parish choir practically anywhere.

So if you are a director of music who feels sorry for yourself because you have to do so much typesetting, you are not alone. It is exactly the same in the Vatican. I didn't get the impression that he has much help at all.

The choir has learned to sing from the Solesmes editions with the early signs added to them to reveal subtleties of performance. Here is the rack of the Cappella's own collection of the Graduale Triplex. These are the editions they sing from. 

This little item is interesting. It is a conductor's chair that looks out to the front while allowing the director to turn around and conduct the choir. So it is a combination music stand and chair. It was being thrown out in the course of some renovation but Fr. Paul rescued the chair and put it in his office. It probably dates from the 1600s. Why would someone throw something like this out? In Rome, that's just not very old as things go. It's a different world from one I've ever known. 

We enjoyed our visit very much, but I left generally alarmed that such a high and important position would not come with obvious signs of prestige and a large staff. Those who know the way the Vatican works would not be surprised. This is the way things work around the Vatican. Prestige, wealth, resources, and the like, are just not part of the job. It looks like an exhausting job that is full of frustrations but also incredible satisfaction too. 

Totally unrelated, here is a photo taken during my visit with Cardinal Burke. I was thrilled that he had read my book Sing Like A Catholic, and that he keeps up with the and the NewLiturgical blog. He is such a friendly and nice person -- a man of principle who has a great human touch about him. It was a pleasure to meet him. 

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