Dozens of Catholic school students joined with members of the Prince of Peace Children’s Choir for the Catholic Children’s Choir Festival held May 10 at the Basilica of Ss. Peter & Paul in Lewiston.
The children, who came from as far away as Bangor, spent the day learning chorale technique and sacred music and then performed an evening concert at the basilica.
“It was very fun because you got to meet new people, a lot of new people, and you got to practice your songs and develop your singing skills more,” said Nora, a seventh grader from St. John’s Catholic School in Brunswick.
“It was really great,” said Elise, an eighth grader from All Saints School in Bangor. “It’s nice to see the Catholic schools come together and just be able to sing as a united community.”
During the day, the children were divided by age group: those younger than third grade, those in third through fifth grade, and then sixth through eighth graders. Each group had its own instructor. Pauline Sabo worked with the youngest children, Jennifer Runge with the middle group, and Leon Griesbach coached the older students.
“I taught them a little bit about vocal production, vocal technique, and then, we talked about the music we were singing and learned the parts. It’s meant to sort of give them a little shot in the arm musically,” he said. “I really love the idea of being able to give our children an opportunity to experience quality music and experience sharing that music with each other outside of their schools and outside of their parishes.”
It was a full day and took a lot of attentiveness and commitment by the students, but their hard work paid off in beautiful performances of hymns such as “Wondrous Love,” "Elijah Rock!" and " Christ, Lord of Glory."
“It was pretty amazing because it’s not like what you normally do, where you have several months to practice, and then, you have it perfect,” said Liam, an eighth grader from All Saints School. “It was just cramming a lot of stuff into one day.”
"It was very exciting to meet other classes from other schools and kind of learn how we all sound together in unison, when we’ve never sung with these people before,” said Abbey, a seventh grader from St. John’s.
The driving force behind the Catholic Children’s Choir Festival was Scott Vaillancourt, music director for Prince of Peace Parish, which includes the basilica.
Vaillancourt said he remembered a music program several years ago that brought Catholic school students together, and he wanted it to bring it back.
“Music is such an important part of Catholic liturgy, and the best way to make it better is to get kids interested in it, so as they become adults, they continue doing it and make it a part of how they worship,” he said.
Vaillancourt said the basilica was an ideal location to hold the festival because it has a lot of rehearsal space as well as being a beautiful place to hold a concert of sacred music.
Although not all the Catholic schools participated, Vaillancourt said the first festival was still a good beginning, one he hopes might lead to the festival becoming an annual event.
“My hope is that the students come away from the festival with a renewed sense of joy,” he said. “Joy from learning some new music and skills, joy from making new friends, and joy from sharing music with each other.”
“Anything good, you want to do again,” said Griesbach. “This is a beautiful space. The music is beautiful. The voices are beautiful. I think if you put all those things together, there is potential for that to really have a profound impact spiritually on the people who hear it and, hopefully, on the children who get to sing it.”
“I just think it’s awesome,” said Parker, a sixth grader. “I felt that it is a really cool thing to have because we all believe in the same religion.”
“It’s really good to be able to come together and perform for everyone,” said Abbey. “We can all kind of connect as Catholic schools and connect in our faith and in our love of music.”
Dozens attended the concert at the basilica, which was open to the public.