Members of the Escolania de Montserrat, one of the oldest and most venerable boys' choirs in Europe, perform at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington March 15. Founded in the 13th century, the choir sings daily fo r pilgrims at the abbey of Santa Maria de Monserrat in Catalonia, Spain. CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

Centuries old choir performs

By  Katherine Talalas, Catholic News Service
  • March 28, 2014

WASHINGTON - Since the 13th century, the Escolania de Montserrat has sung daily for pilgrims at Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey in Catalonia, Spain. It took 800 years, but the famous boys choir finally arrived in North America to share their ministry of sacred music.

This month the choir sang liturgical music — some of it dating back to the Middle Ages — in New York, Summit, N.J., Bethesda, Md. and at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.

The sacred music performed by the choir demands a lot of dedication. The boys leave their homes between the ages of 9 and 14 and spend four or five years at Montserrat. They practice for an hour and 10 minutes a day and sing daily in the church. In addition to singing, the boys play piano and at least one other instrument.

When asked if a chorister’s schedule was tiring, Pablo Morales, 12, said that it could be. However, he thought that element was of minor significance.

“The important thing is not to think about oneself,” Pablo said. “For the choristers it’s just another day like any day, but for the pilgrims that have come to Montserrat, it’s a special day. It’s not so much about us, and how we feel — it’s about what we can give to the visitors of Montserrat.”

The boys’ responsibility to the pilgrims is part of the reason why they have toured less extensively than other choirs. The Benedictine abbey on the side of the mountain draws travellers from all over the world. For centuries, the Escolania sang only for their visitors. In 1968, the choir began to leave the monastery to sing.

On tour, audiences listen to selections outside of the Escolania’s normal repertoire.

“We get to share a little bit of who we are too, and to share the Catalan culture,” said 13-year-old chorister Marc Garcia. Their performance in Bethesda included music composed for Our Lady of Montserrat as well as opera and Catalan folk songs.

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