Mid-Missouri choir to ring in 2015 with Vatican performances

New Year’s Day 2015 vocalists from Jefferson City will celebrate the Feast of Mary, Mother of God Papal Mass at St. Peter Basilica in Rome with Pope Francis.

This is the first time a choir from Mid-Missouri has been invited to be part of a papal Mass, as far as Lisa Screeton knows.

She is the director of the Immaculate Conception Festival Choir, which will join the Sistine Chapel Choir in the celebration.

This is not, however, the first time for Screeton, who has coordinated more than 20 such musical pilgrimages.

The eight-day trip — Dec. 26-Jan. 2, 2015 — is not limited to musicians from the parish.

Anyone is welcome to join the choir in this experience — singing or only traveling, Screeton said.

An informational meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Sunday at Immaculate Conception.

Screeton recently returned from a site visit in Italy, to review events and itineraries as well as ensure hotels and other destinations will meet the group’s needs.

“You try to anticipate the barriers your pilgrims might have to not diminish the experience,” she said.

The beauty of the art and architecture of Rome’s churches can be overwhelming for a performer.

That’s why Screeton’s schedules bring the group to a performance site several hours beforehand, to let them be tourists.

In addition to the magnificent settings and the robust acoustics, Italian audiences are very appreciative of good choirs, Screeton said.

And they have a fondness for American music, she said.

So, the Immaculate Conception Festival Choir will prepare spirituals written by Moses Hogan and Jester Hairston, as well as some other Catholic composers.

The local choir also will premiere an original work by Screeton, just as her 2010 choir did.

At the papal Mass, the choir will sing music selected by the Vatican during the service. But they will do their own pieces before the entrance and after the Mass is over.

They will have an audience with Pope Francis on Dec. 31, where they will sing a selection, then perform for the pontiff again at the blessing of the Vatican Creche in St. Peter’s Square.

The evening of Jan. 1, 2015, they will perform a concert at the Church of St. Ignatius and they will provide the music for the Solemn Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica on Dec. 30.

The choir also will sing at Mass at the Basilica of St. Francis on Dec. 29. And Screeton expects impromptu singing to take place as the group of vocalists visit sacred and moving sites.

“It’s an extraordinary place to sing, and the acoustics are the best in the world,” Screeton said.

One of the cool things about singing a papal Mass is a Vatican photographer accompanies the group and provides official portraits from the event, Screeton said.

She hopes to bring along a professional photographer from the parish, who would help create a commemorative book from the journey.

And she is negotiating to bring along a professional videographer, who would produce a documentary.

A CD will be made from their live performances, too.

Already, her choir members at Immaculate Conception have been learning how to read and sing Gregorian chant — particularly the Mater Dei Schola, a new high choir which performs Latin-text music monthly.

To prepare those outside Immaculate Conception who will join the festival choir for the trip, Screeton plans to hold a few rehearsals.

But before that, she will make digital audio recordings of each part so individuals can learn the music on their own.

“If people learn their parts, we just need to get it together and tune it up,” Screeton said. “The energy is going to be there in those spaces.”

Part of the purpose of the pilgrimage is to share the beauty and formality of the liturgy, she said.

Fundraisers are being planned to support this trip.

An Italian dinner will be served in early summer. A Star-Spangled Salute concert will be performed in November. And a Boot Scootin’ Boogie concert and chili supper may be coming in September.

Donations to help subsidize a traveler’s expenses are welcome. E-mail lscreeton@icangels.com for more information.

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