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In tune with marking milestones

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Liturgical music raises voices toward heaven. And the choirs of the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington have been doing so for years — 50 years for the Cathedral Choir and 25 years for the Diocesan Choir.

Featuring a commissioned work by composer Charles Thatcher — “My Heart is Ready” — and Giovanni Pergolisi’s “Magnificat,” the Cathedral Choir and Diocesan Choir will celebrate their respective anniversaries with a concert at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington Nov. 15 at 7:30 p.m. Nationally known guest organist Mary Beth Bennett will accompany the choir. Richard P. Gibala is celebrating his 30th year as artistic and music director of the choirs.

Gibala describes the choirs as a family, which has experienced everything a family does, including losses.

“The choir comes forward in beautiful ways,” he said. “God is there in the music all the time.”

Fifty years ago, John Q. Pierce joined the Cathedral Choir after Msgr. Richard J. Burke, then rector, called for volunteers to form a choir. Pierce, along with the choir, have a repertoire of more than 850 works.

“I love to sing,” said Pierce. “It’s such an honor to be able to sing at the liturgy. I believe most of us singers get far more out of singing in church than we give.”

Before joining the Cathedral Choir, Pierce was a soprano in the men and boys choir at the cathedral 1962-65. He now sings bass with the other 40 choir members.

The Cathedral Choir sings each Sunday at the 11 a.m. Mass, as well as major feast days and diocesan liturgies. They have sung several times for the Mass for Shut-ins in Washington. In 2001, they sang for the nationally televised memorial Mass for Barbara Olson who died in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. 

The Cathedral Choir traveled internationally in 2002 to sing for a papal Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica, at Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica, and at a papal audience, and they gave a concert for the City of Rome at San Ignatio Church, as well as at the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi.

They recorded CDs in 1989, 1997, 1999, 2002 and 2006. They have sung for priesthood ordinations and episcopal installations over the years, including Bishop Thomas J. Welsh as the first bishop of Arlington (1974), Bishop John R. Keating (1983), Bishop Paul S. Loverde (1999) and Bishop Michael F. Burbidge (2016).

Choir directors over the years have included Jack Cooper, Samuel F. Lowe, Dennis Striny, Tom Riley, Michael Cordovana and Jack Neil. Haig Mardirosian served from 1977 to 1990, and Gibala began in 1990.

Pierce said the consistency of the conductors made a difference.

“There was huge progress in the quality of singing and the care with which the liturgy was executed,” he said. “The spirituality with which Rick conducts the choir is his hallmark, but the quality and repertoire continued consistently.”

The Diocesan Choir sings for the Rite of Election, adult confirmations, ordinations of transitional and permanent deacons, priestly ordinations, Mass for Marriage Jubilarians and the diocesan pilgrimage.

The choir was formed in 1999 for the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the Diocese of Arlington under what was called the Diocesan Festival Choir. The call went out again the following year for the Millennium Celebration Mass.

Members, who come from parishes across the diocese, include choir directors, cantors, organists and others.

Some charter members have participated in the choir each of the 25 years. Father Stephen J. Schultz, chaplain of St. Paul VI Catholic High School in Fairfax, was in the choir before he entered the seminary. The choir prayed for him at every choir gathering during his years of seminary preparation and sang for his ordinations.

The anniversary celebrations continue Dec. 8 at 7:30 p.m. with the annual Service of Lessons and Carols.

Elliott can be reached at elizabeth.elliott@catholicherald.com or Twitter @eelliottACH.

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The 50th Anniversary Concert, Cathedral of St. Thomas More, 3901 Cathedral Ln., Arlington, Nov. 15 at 7:30 p.m.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019