Rachel Gomez is your typical, active pre-teen. She likes to listen to Ed Sheeran, play volleyball, softball and basketball, and hang out with her friends.
But on Saturday mornings, it’s the classical sacred music of Gabriel Fauré, Lodovico Viadana, and the Kyrie and Agnus Dei from the Missa de Angeles that draws her attention.
Not your typical musical fare for a 6th grader.
Rachel, a student at St. Norbert Church in Orange, is part the Diocesan Children’s Choir of Orange, the 70-member performing choir of children grades 4-9 who sing at major events, Masses and festivals. But their biggest performance is yet to come. In January the group will travel to Rome to perform at the Epiphany Festival and sing the Mass with Pope Francis, a remarkable honor for a choir that is barely a year old.
The Diocesan Children’s Choir from Christ Cathedral was formed in the fall of 2016, with children throughout the diocese auditioning for a coveted spot in the new choir. Today, 21 parishes and schools are represented in the choir.
“Every great cathedral must have a great choir,” says John Romeri, director of Music Ministry for Christ Cathedral. “Great music is part of the mission of the church, and we have an amazing diocesan choir, and our children’s choir is a component of that.”
The children are taught music theory, singing technique, vocal performance and note reading, while also learning the music of the Mass and liturgy and the importance of music as it relates to the Catholic faith, says Lauren McCaul, Cathedral music administrator at Christ Cathedral.
“We are giving the kids a real taste of the great music of the Catholic Church,” Romeri says. “And we can’t forget that many people have come to religious life through music.”
Alyce Reynaud, 14, sings soprano and believes that her singing technique has improved under the tutelage of Romeri, the Cathedral’s first director of Music who holds a Master of Sacred Music degree from Westminster Choir College in Princeton and who was presented an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from Lindenwood University in Saint Louis in 1998.
“Dr. John is such a great teacher; he’s one of the main reasons why I’m in the choir,” says Alyce, a freshman at Foothill High School. “I have a deeper understanding of notes, music and composers.”
“Dr. John explains where the music comes from, who the composer is and how to get into the music,” Rachel says. “And I definitely feel more confident about my singing. I work hard and I just go for it.”
While some of the children came to the choir with formal musical training through instruments, many did not.
“Some come with very special talent, either years of violin or piano, and had an interest in developing their musical skills,” Romeri says. There were others with no formal training, who liked to sing, but are then captivated by the music.
“We see the change in them when they come and learn about the music and how it serves the liturgy and they realize they are liturgical ministers,” Romeri says.
For the trip to Rome, friends and families of the choir raised more than $70,000 to pay for every choir member who wanted to attend, Romeri says. The choir will be performing a world-premiere song by American composer, Julian Revie, a piece that was especially composed for the choir and their tour to Rome, Vatican City and Assisi.
What was the choir’s reaction when told they would be singing for Pope Francis?
“We were all screaming,” says Rachel, who turns 12 the day before they leave for Rome. “It’s so exciting.”
“There are just no words to describe it,” Alyce says.
Interest in the choir continues to grow, so McCaul says they will form a new preparatory children’s choir in January and are now taking signups. Children in grades 1 to 5 may join and no auditions are required. This choir will prepare children for membership in the Diocesan Children’s Choir and give them both singing and musical training.
For Rachel and Alyce, they both agree that the best thing about the choir is the friendships they’ve developed with other members.
“There are so many great things about this choir,” Rachel says. “It feels like you’re a family; no one feels like the odd one out. It’s a welcoming space where we can come together, sing, and have fun. It’s really special.”
For more information about the Diocesan Children’s Choir and the now-forming preparatory choir, please visit christcathedralmusic.org or facebook/christcathedralmusic.