Jennifer Janikula, The Catholic Spirit
Gorgeous. Beautiful. Majestic. Powerful. Transcendent. Life-changing.
These are the words members of the Twin Cities Catholic Chorale use to describe the experience of the Latin Mass with a four-part choir, professional orchestra, professional soloists and the classical sacred music of Mozart, Beethoven, Hayden and others.
The Twin Cities Catholic Chorale, founded in 1956 by Msgr. Richard J. Schuler, sings at 25 to 30 masses each year at St. Agnes in St. Paul and begins its newest season Oct. 14.
More than 60 voices come together with an orchestra as large as 40 players to contribute. The uniqueness of the singing and worship experience keeps veteran members coming back and is drawing new members to the chorale.
Veteran choir member Virginia Schubert, who has been singing soprano in the choir since 1960, enjoys singing classical music that was written for the purpose of the “glorification of God” within the context of the Catholic Mass.
“I want to worship God in the most beautiful and fitting way possible with sacred music, which is great art,” Schubert said.
The “Messe Solennelle” (St. Cecilia Mass), composed by Charles Gounod, was the inspiration Charles Asch needed to join the choir last year.
“I was transported,” said Asch, a music arts doctoral candidate at the University of Minnesota. “It was my first time hearing that music in the appropriate place. The reverent tone helped me understand the majesty and gravity of Christianity.”
Dr. Robert Peterson, director of the chorale since 2000, said he values the experience of the veteran members and stresses the importance of integrating new members into the chorale.
“We need their youth and vitality and energetic voices,” he said.
Younger members of the chorale often need several years to become comfortable with the choir’s massive repertoire of music. Kyle Walsh, a senior at Chesterton Academy in Edina and a first-year member of the choir, has found a mentor in long-time member Gary Johnson.
“Gary took me under his wing. He knows his parts well and I work off him — listen to him,” Walsh said.
Mary Eilen, a senior at the University of St. Thomas and the newest member of the chorale has two mentors, Michael and Kathleen Eilen — her mom and dad.
“The chorale has been part of our family’s atmosphere for a long time,” Mary Eilen said as she remembered her dad frequently practicing his parts for the Masses at home.
Michael Eilen considers his 19-year contribution to the choir one of his primary vocations. “Singing this music involves everything that I am,” he said. “It fulfills me, in a certain earthly sense, that my gifts from God can be utilized fully.”
Henning Rotstein, a member of the chorale for three years, admits that singing in the group is hard work, but it helps him escape the pressures of work and school.
“I actually get to sit down. I get to sit down and sing with talented singers and musicians,” Rotstein said. “I praise God and celebrate with the gifts he has given me.”
Whether veteran or newcomer, all members of the chorale consider their singing a prayer, not a performance.
“We are united and all praying together as a choir,” said Mary Eilen. “Everyone listening becomes part of that.”