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Roman Working Holiday

I returned from Rome on Monday night and have spent much of the time since sound asleep. The purpose of this trip was to make a recording with the Choir of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore. This CD was conceived as a tribute to Pope John Paul II, and it includes Henryk Gorecki's Totus tuus (1987), a hymn to the Virgin Mary composed for this pope's third official visit to Poland. The title words, repeated often throughout the piece, are the pope's motto and were the final words of his handwritten message when he recovered from surgery on Sunday. An article (Musical Tour de Force, an Artist at Adoration: Choir of U.S. Basilica Tunes In to Rome for CD, March 10) by Catherine Smibert for Zenit relates the thoughts of our conductor on the importance of the CD.

Photo by Alistair Grant
On Wednesday, we were driven in a bus out to the Gemelli Hospital, where we sang underneath the Pope's window (mentioned in this article from Agence France-Presse on March 3), although he did not make an appearance while we were there. We had fun taking turns with the other choral group that was there that day. (According to this article from Zenit, the Pope did enjoy the music under his window.)

We spent a lot of our evenings at Santa Maria Maggiore, including two long nights of recording and, on Thursday evening, a concert that was part of a Lenten reflection by Cardinal Re, hosted by Cardinal Law, former archbishop of Boston. This concert was also covered by news agencies, and you can see some of the photographs of the event from the Associated Press: photo 1 (shown here), photo 2, photo 3, and photo 4.

Europe has been suffering through a colder, snowier winter than usual, and although we had some sunny days in Rome, it was often rainy and almost always cold. In most of the churches where we sang, we wore our coats when we could (i.e., all the time except when we were actually performing). By the end of the final recording session in Santa Maria Maggiore, I could (faintly) see my breath in the air. In the last photograph, you can see the nave of the church, a medieval building that incorporated the early Christian basilica on the site, with its Ionic columns and 5th-century mosaic sequence (the panels under the clerestory windows). Like so many churches in Rome, it is a Frankenstein monster of different styles, in which the dominant taste is that of the most recent era of powerful popes, the Baroque. What this means is a lot of glittery gold. I can't explain that rose window, which is, I think, the most recent part of the decoration.

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