Swords and Saxophones: The Music of the Pontifical Swiss Guard

Since the 14th century, the Pontifical Swiss Guards have protected the Pope and have stood guard at the boundaries of the Vatican City State.  In their boldly striped uniforms (reportedly designed by Michelangelo), their ceremonial halberds at their sides, they are a colorful symbol of the Vatican.

I’ve seen the Swiss Guards standing at attention beside the Vatican’s Petriano entrance and at the great bronze doors of the Apostolic Palace.  I know of their respect and deep affection for the Pope and of their strict military training.

But I’ve never, until now, known of their second ceremonial function:  The Guard maintains an excellent musical corps, and they play at official Vatican events.

The Swiss Guards kicked off the 2012 Advent season with a concert of popular Advent and Christmas songs.

During the 2011 Christmas season, the band performed in the church of Santa Maria della Pietà in the Campo Santo Teutonico, the burial ground inside the walls of the Vatican.  The concert featured arrangements for harp and brass band of traditional Advent and holiday songs from Germany, France, the UK, Ecuador, Paraguay and the US and was intended as a benefit action for charity projects in Switzerland and Zimbabwe.

And in 2012, something new:  For the first time in 33 years, the Pope’s security force has produced an album.  The soldiers joined with Swiss harpist Daniele Lorenz to produce their first-ever CD, “Christmas with the Pontifical Swiss Guard.”   The album has international appeal:  It features 18 Christmas songs, including Swiss, Latin American and Italian carols.

And how does a band achieve true excellence?  Practice, practice, practice!  Here the bodyguards for the Pope demonstrate their musical proficiency in the courtyard at the Apostolic Palace.

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