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Musicians 'clothe the liturgy in beauty' at St. Francis de Sales in Purcellville

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The congregation sits ready to sing the refrain of the psalm during a Mass at St. Francis de Sales Church in Purcellville. They hear the introduction on the organ, pipes sending notes toward heaven, feel the bass emanating from the foot pedals, and hear the simple melody. 

What they may not see are the hands of 12-year-old Daniel Carroll, a middle-schooler and children’s choir member accompanying them from the choir loft. Sixteen-year-old Hannah O’Neill, the cantor, in front, also is in the children’s choir. 

In the six years since Michael Galdo began as music director, he has developed the adult choir of 26 members and the children’s choir of 38 members. He also teaches organ to three middle-schoolers. 

Galdo has been a Youth Apostle, a community of priests and laymen who work to inspire youths to live like Christ, since 2006. “It is a very important part of my enthusiasm for fostering good music with the youth. A lot of what I do has to do with my formation as a Youth Apostle and how I interact with the choir,” he said.

O’Neill plays flute and cantors at Mass. “Playing flute outside the church is fun but playing in church is taking it to a whole new level,” she said. “I feel like Christ is playing through me.” 

Members of the children’s choir have sung with the adult choir. “Several of our youths have become leaders in the parish choir,” said Galdo. “This year we had five high school members and four middle school members singing alongside the adults in the choir.” 

The combination has an effect on both the adults and youths. Kenny McWilliam, who sings bass in the adult choir, has been a member for 12 years. “The mixed choir is a new addition for us,” said McWilliam. “It helps the youths develop as singers more quickly and it keeps us fresh.” 

McWilliam said the choir feels fortunate to have Galdo as director. “As a small parish we have something special,” he said. “He could be anywhere and he’s here because he wants to be.” 

Father Ronald S. Escalante, pastor, said Galdo built the choir from the ground up. “They sing in English and Latin well, he introduced four-part singing and the choir grew substantially in size,” he said. “The revival he brought into bring sacred music to a high level is a blessing to our parish.” 

The younger members find support and inspiration in the adult choir. “Even if it is not just about music, they have taught me a lot of wisdom,” said O’Neill. “They have always been there to support us and are sort of second aunts and uncles to us.” 

The parish also has a praise and worship band called Witness at the Sunday 5 p.m. Mass. Kevin Bills has led the music for several years. “We are all called to conscious participation,” said Bills. “For some people it’s singing in Latin, for others it is up-tempo, easy songs. We’ve always been encouraging others to pray twice through music at the teen Mass.” 

The praise and worship band is joined by a few vocalists, acoustic guitar, drums and sometimes piano or organ. “It is all about getting everyone to participate,” said Bills. “Singing is not a competition. When we hear them singing back in the congregation it is rewarding.”

Douglas Chaplow, 13, Dan Carroll, 12, and Gabriel Galdo, the director’s son, 11, all homeschooled, are the organists. Galdo taught them piano and the middle-schoolers wanted the opportunity to play the organ. They accompany on organ for rehearsals, play postludes and sometimes accompany songs during Mass. 

In addition to lessons, Galdo took the boys on a field trip to listen to other organists. 

“We went to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.,” said Chaplow. “Each of us got to play. It was loud and a lot of fun playing at the basilica.” 

Chaplow, who sings tenor, was in the children’s choir when his voice changed causing him to start singing an octave lower than the rest of the choir. But that vocal change doesn’t deter him. “I like singing so it is fun to participate in the Mass,” he said. 

He appreciates the opportunity to play the organ, as well. “I like being able to participate more deeply in the Mass. Just to play music officially and it be (something) important means a lot to me.” 

Carroll recently won first place in the Northern Virginia Music Teachers Association composition competition. He composed “Toccata and Fugue” for the organ. 

“Playing the organ at church is something I’ve always wanted to do since I was little,” he said. “It gets me closer to God and to Mass at least once a Sunday.” 

Galdo said the choir helps the assembly experience what is sacred and set apart, with the music being beautiful, meaningful and liturgical. “I think our choir understands that and experiences it every week,” he said. “That is what keeps them coming back.” 

Galdo sees the choir’s role as a ministry for the parish.

“Perhaps the greatest motivating factor for all our choir efforts is the ministry that we do at each liturgy, to clothe the liturgy in beauty,” said Galdo. “The words and actions of the assembly become more united and fervent when they are surrounded in music. This is the case for congregational singing, organ playing or choral singing.”  

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018