For the first time in 30 years, the Sistine Chapel Choir performed this week in NY. It was a surprise performance for the guests of the Met Gala, an annual fundraiser for the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Attendees were in awe with the joy and beauty of the Church conveyed through music.
The choir’s performance hadn’t been announced in advance. Those present at the May 7 Met Gala were astounded by this rare performance.
This year the Met exhibition, which opened May 10 and runs through October 2018, carries the theme “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination,” and features around 40 items on loan from the Vatican.
The items, many of which come from the Sistine Chapel Sacristy’s Office for Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff, range in time period from the mid-1700s up to the pontificate of Saint John Paul II.
Commonly referred to as “the pope’s choir,” the Sistine Chapel Choir consists of 20 professional singers from around the world, as well as a treble section composed of 35 boys aged 9-13, called the Pueri Cantores.
With a 1,500-year history, the Sistine Chapel Choir is believed to be the oldest active choir in the world.
The choir’s director, Maestro Massimo Palombella, approached Hale several years ago about creating a tour in the U.S. The September mini-version was essentially a test run, Hale said, and given the choir’s success during their fall tour, a longer nationwide tour is being organized for this summer.
Given the special nature of the Vatican items, they’ve been set up in a separate display from the other pieces, which include religious art from the Met collection itself and around 150 designer fashion pieces intended to pay homage to Catholicism and which draw inspiration from Catholic iconography, liturgy and other aspects of the faith tradition.
John Hale, one of the leading organizers of the choir’s surprise performance at the gala, told CNA that the evening “was really a wow-moment.”
Wintour, Hale said, told him attendees “were absolutely enthralled” by the performance. That sentiment, he added, “summed it up beautifully.”
“I spoke with a number of the attendees and mixed with them right after the performance and it was perfect silence, there was very good applause and reaction…so many folks were just really moved.”
Hale said he was initially hesitant when he was asked to help organize a performance at the gala, and had concerns over sensitivity to the Catholic faith. However, when the Vatican green-lighted the choir’s visit, he jumped on board and kept the performance quiet up until the moment the choir filed in and began singing.
Having worked with the Met to get all the details in order, “I can really say they were not only respectful, they really wanted to communicate the beauty and faith of the Church,” he said. “I really had that sense, and it was very sincere. I was very moved by how sincere they were.”
While Hale said the exhibit itself was “beautifully done,” and serves as “a real opportunity to express the Church’s teaching through beauty, through truth,” and “the same with the performance of the Sistine Chapel Choir” many have been critical of bizarre and pornographic aspects of the exhibit. (see article below)
“We have to communicate beauty, and we have been invited, as a Church, to communicate what is our expression of beauty and our making manifest God’s presence through beauty,” he said, adding that in his opinion, “it would have been a crime not to respond to that invitation.”
Ultimately, what gets communicated through the beauty of things like fashion and music is God’s love, Hale said. “Everyone wants to be loved and we all need to be loved by God.”
Choir members themselves felt both appreciated and respected by gala attendees, he said, noting that a number of the singers told him they could see people in the front row, and it was obvious they were captivated.
“Several choir members commented on the smiles, the joy, they could see genuine joy,” he said. “There was an exchange and a communication of joy that was palpable and apparent to the choir members and to the attendees.”