Multicultural Choral Concert to celebrate diversity of faith

First slide

"(Catholic music) is steeped in tradition but sung in different languages," said Corinne Monogue, director of the diocesan Office of Multicultural Ministries. "Why not make it easily available to share with others in the diocese?"

Monogue said that she and her assistant, Elizabeth Tauke, have the job of listening to "rich, moving and beautiful Catholic music" from around the world. Together, they work with African, Asian, Portuguese and Brazilian communities to make their liturgical norms, including worship music, possible in Arlington. Yet these celebrations cannot always be shared with the greater Catholic community.

Hence Monogue's plan for a diocesan Multicultural Choral Concert, an effort that last occurred about 15 years ago. This free event will take place April 25 at Bishop Ireton High School in Alexandria.

When Monogue pitched the idea to Ireton earlier this year, Pete Davey, the school's directior of operations, immediately agreed.

"This concert is about promoting diversity as part of the school's curriculum and formation," said Davey, who expects more than 220 performers and about 1,000 people in the audience.

Those 1,000 may include any of Ireton's 803 students and their friends and families, plus members of the multicultural communities represented that night.

Performers will include the Filipino Serenata Choir, Holy Martyrs of Vietnam Choir, the Ghanaian Choir, Good Shepherd's Hispanic Charismatic Choir, Heartsongs: Tam Tinh Ca, St. Paul Chung Korean Choir and St. Joseph's Gospel Choir.

"The choirs will be performing songs that represent (their communities) and their faith," said Davey. "I'm just the geek behind the scenes."

Davey added that Ireton is well-equipped to produce large-scale performances, with country singer Taylor Swift performing there in 2009 after the school won a nationwide texting contest.

While Ireton will oversee the concert's production logistics, the Office of Multicultural Affairs has organized choir outreach and event promotion. Each choir will perform one or two songs representative of its culture.

"We feel privileged as an African-American community to add our voice to the musical gifts of the church," said Eugene Harper, director of the St. Joseph's Gospel Choir of St. Joseph Church in Alexandria. "It's important for everyone to hear these various sounds as a means not only to be educated but to increase (their) faith."

St. Joseph's Gospel Choir will perform two songs - one "surprise" song, as well as "Resurrection Jubilee," an African-American hymnal.

"I love ('Resurrection Jubilee') because it talks about the resurrection," said Harper, who grew up in Portsmouth, Va., when the South was still segregated racially. "It's very fitting during this time (of year), the apex of our faith."

In addition to the African-Americans, Ghanaians, Koreans, Filipinos and Hispanics performing, two Vietnamese choirs will perform. Heartsongs: Tam Tinh Ca, directed by Thanh Le, will sing "Con Co Mot To Quoc"("I Have One Nation"), while Holy Martyrs of Vietnam Choir, directed by Han Pham, will perform "Psalm 23."

"We would like (everyone) to feel (Psalm 23), even if we're singing in (Vietnamese)," said Pham. "It is well-known across the world, composed by many different composers in different rhythms."

Pham, who studied at Saigon's conservatory of music before Vietnam's 1975 fall to communism, directs nine other Vietnamese Christian choirs in Northern Virginia.

Holy Martyrs' performance will be accompanied by three or four violinists, including Pham's children and Nhu-y Tu, 26, a youth group leader for the Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Movement who began studying violin at age 9.

"I'm excited to hear participation from the other cultures (because) Vietnamese worship music is totally different from American worship music," said Tu.

For the grand finale, all of the choirs will join voices in singing "Celtic Alleluia."

The National Repertoire and Standards Committee at the American Choral Directors Association began reviewing minority participation and inclusion in U.S. choirs starting in 1979.

"In the '70s and '80s, there was a great push in diocesan choirs (across the nation) to bring in Latinos (and other multicultural groups)," said Grayson Wagstaff, dean of the school of music at Catholic University in Washington.

Wagstaff pointed out that it is important for Anglo-American Catholics not to generalize other ethnic groups and their musical traditions. He cited the example that Mexican mariachi music might not be enjoyed or appreciated in all Spanish-language Masses, where the faithful may come from a variety of countries and cultural backgrounds.

According to CARA, Georgetown University's affiliated research center on Cultural Diversity in the Catholic Church in the United States, in 2010, about three in 10 U.S. parishes reported celebrating one or more Masses a month in a language other than English - a number that continues to grow as immigrant populations, both Hispanic and non-Hispanic, grow.

The choir members performing at Arlington's Multicultural Choral Concert agree that the evening will be about education, faith and unity.

"The tapestry of our church is filled with many cultural and ethnic identities from across the spectrums of the world," said Harper. "Many voices, many languages."

The Multicultural Choral Concert will start at 7 p.m.

Stoddard can be reached at cstoddard@catholicherald.com.

Find out more

To learn more about the Multicultural Choral Concert and the Arlington Diocese's multicultural choirs, call 703/841-3881 or email mcm@bishopireton.org. Follow @CDAcultures on Twitter. Bishop Ireton High School is located at 201 Cambridge Road, Alexandria.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015