Singing for the pope in D.C.

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In the rear of St. Dominic Church in Washington on a Saturday afternoon last May, Matt Klosterman felt the pressure. The parishioner of St. William of York Church in Stafford and technology trainer for the Arlington Diocese was about to audition for the Papal Mass Choir, that will sing at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington for Pope Francis' Mass Sept. 23.

"When it was my turn, I could not remember ever being that nervous before," said Klosterman. "Not for my wedding, not for basic training, not on stage in high school. When I was doing my audition, my hand shook so badly, I had to clench my fist to make it stop."

Klosterman was called to the front of the church and given four selections to sing. The soaring ceiling of the 19th-century church provided the perfect venue for his ability.

"One gift that God gave me was the ability to bellow," he said. "When I sang for the audition, (I sang) loudly enough to hear myself echoing off the back and ceiling of the church."

It worked. Of more than 300 who auditioned, Klosterman was selected for the 90-member choir. Liz Isbell, a parishioner of Blessed Sacrament Church in Alexandria and another staff member of the chancery, also was selected for the choir.

The self-described "bass 2" sings the lowest range in the choir.

"Think Caiaphas in 'Jesus Christ, Superstar,'" Klosterman explained.

He started singing in high school with the choir of All Saints Church in Manassas and has sung with choirs at Holy Spirit Church in Annandale and the chapels of Shepard Air Force Base in Texas and Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho. Currently, he sings with the St. William of York choir and the Arlington Diocesan Choir.

But none of his experience could prepare him for the rigorous rehearsal schedule of singing in the Papal Mass Choir.

Under the direction of Tom Stehle, choir director of the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, rehearsals are every Monday, 7 to 9:30 p.m., at St. Mark the Evangelist Church in Hyattsville, Md.

"Stafford and Hyattsville aren't exactly across the street from one another," Klosterman laughed.

In addition, the music the Papal Mass Choir has been rehearsing is a challenge. The selections include pieces in English, Latin, Spanish and a bit of French.

"You're dealing with over 20 songs being sung by a choir of 90 people, most of whom have never sung together," said Klosterman. "But it should sound spectacular once we iron everything out."

The Sept. 21 rehearsal will be the last one the choir holds on its own. They will join a gospel choir, intercultural choir, the choir of Catholic University in Washington and the Choir of the Basilica at the shrine Sept. 22 for a dress rehearsal expected to last some seven hours.

On the day of the papal Mass, Klosterman will meet his fellow choir members at St. Mark for a charter bus to the shrine, arriving around noon for last minute warm-ups and practice. They will begin their performance at 3 p.m. with a prelude and sing for the Mass around 4:15 p.m.

To prepare for the big event, Klosterman has simple plans: "The night before, I plan to get sleep," he said. "My best bet would be to even avoid talking after the (final) rehearsal."

The significance of this event is not lost on Klosterman who said the highlight of the Mass for him will be the canonization of Blessed Junípero Serra.

"I will get to not only attend but participate in a Mass celebrated by the leader of all Christendom, with a canonization rite thrown in for good measure. There's not a whole lot of people who can say that," he said. "For someone who appreciates the beauty and solemnity of the holy sacrifice of the Mass, there's not much more to hope for."

Witko can be reached at


The response that will be sung for the prayer of the faithful during Pope Francis' closing Mass for the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia Sept. 27 was written by Rick Gibala, director of music at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington.

Gibala received an email during planning for the pope's liturgy in Philadelphia, asking permission to use his music.

"I was in shock," said Gibala. "It's amazing to think the pope might very well be singing my response.

"I feel like now I really have 'been to the mountain,'" he said.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015