“Angelic” is a word not normally associated with boys in fourth through eighth grade, but it has been used to describe those of St. Paul’s Choir School.
Established in 1963, the school, located across from Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has a resumé that includes national and international tours, including singing with the Boston Pops, at Carnegie Hall and, last year, at St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. Despite its long history, in October, the choir released its first international CD, “Christmas in Harvard Square.”
John Robinson, director of music at the Church of St. Paul in Cambridge and of St. Paul’s Choir School, has managed to channel the energy typically found in 10- to 14-year-old boys. “They are competitive, being boys; it’s just always a case of whether you make being competitive in a good way, which will yield good results.”
St. Paul’s Choir School, which bills itself as the only Catholic boys choir school in the United States, is training boys to develop their intellectual and musical talents in the tradition of the Roman Catholic Church.
The unique school encourages the boys to use their musical gifts for the glory of God, enriching the liturgical services at the nearby Church of St. Paul and serving the community by the performance of master works of choral literature. The school has seen religious vocations come from its ranks, including Boston’s Auxiliary Bishop Peter Uglietto.
Recently celebrating its 50th year, St. Paul’s Choir School was founded by Theodore Marier, an internationally acclaimed Gregorian chant scholar. Under Robinson’s direction, the choir recently released “Christmas in Harvard Square.” In a recent conversation with Our Sunday Visitor, Robinson recalled distinct memories from his youth.
When he was 6 years old, he heard the parish church choir every week and felt a deep desire to be a part of it. He was accepted into the church choir and continued on with music.
After college and many years assisting as an organist and working with boys choir schools in England, Robinson began searching for options to become a director.
“The day comes, I think, when you want to be in charge of a music program and not just the one who is accompanying all the time.”
He found an advertisement for St. Paul’s Choir School and was hired as its director.
Boys sing praise
While Robinson is proud of the music produced by the boys at St. Paul’s Choir School, so, too, are its students.
Collin Lapus, a sixth-grader, said he appreciates his school.
“It’s definitely made me love music more,” he said. “It gets me closer to God.” Collin said he thinks the choir’s music will have the same effect on others. “They will get closer to God and probably closer to music.”
Mark Flynn, an eighth-grader, believes the new CD “will impact everyone.”
“Some people don’t go to church that often. They might change their minds,” he said. “I definitely think of the words in the songs and how they relate to God.”
Producing the CD
Before helping create “Christmas in Harvard Square,” Monica Fitzgibbons, co-founder with her husband, Kevin, of the record label De Montfort Music, had chart-topping successes in 2013 with best-selling albums “Angels and Saints at Ephesus” and “Advent at Ephesus.”
Monica Fitzgibbons remembers listening to the St. Paul’s boys choir with fascination on many occasions when she lived in Boston. One day years later, her husband was there on business and went to a Mass where the boys were singing. Excitedly, he discreetly recorded a few snippets, which he later texted to his wife.
“Even hearing it on his phone, I said, ‘This is amazing; what is going on there?’” Fitzgibbons said. There was a noticeable change, she said. “I knew there was a whole different level of singing.”
Amazed at the boys’ talent and behavior during the production, Fitzgibbons remarked, “We are talking about fourth- through eighth-graders — and all boys. These boys were like total professionals.”
Fizgibbons is delighted with the CD’s influence. Among the stories she’s heard, someone in chemotherapy was helped by listening and a child with Autism was calmed by it.
“The goal is to bring more people to this beautiful music that helps bring them closer to God,” she said.
Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle is an EWTN TV host and best-selling author of 18 books, including “Mother Teresa and Me: Ten Years of Friendship” (OSV, $14.95).