THE choir sang at five events: one concert; one informal recital
that turned out to be very formal, owing to the cameras in the
amazing, painted Sistine Chapel; two services in the Abbey of
Montecassino; and one of the most memorable services I will ever
sing, to restore ecumenical relationships between the RC Church and
the Anglican Church. It came close even to the royal wedding.
I had never been to St Peter's Basilica before, but the size of
it took my breath away. It is much bigger than St Paul's, and the
canopy over the altar was huge. The nave was massive, and the whole
building looked rather pudgy because of the ratio of height to
width to length, but nevertheless the experience was
The differences between an Anglican service and the papal mass
were profound, once you managed not to think about the heat and the
cassocks. The Pope arriving on a throne that glided down the aisle
with the help of two pushers was amazing. Mgr Massimo Palombella
(choirmaster and director of the Sistine Chapel Choir) was running
back and forth, telling the organist to stop, or play music to fill
gaps, and deciding when the musical aspects of the service should
Since the duration of the service was longer than three hours,
we were allowed to get water and go to the toilet, as long as the
moment was appropriate, which would never happen in an Anglican
service. But the thing that was most different was the attitude
If you took a photo in Westminster Abbey, you would be glared
at, and similarly if you coughed, but the procession leaving the
basilica was crowded with people with cameras, and people
applauding and congratulating us. I felt rather relieved when the
choir passed through "the staircase of death" (a staircase that led
back to our makeshift vestry), and out of the public eye.
The Sistine Chapel Choir sang in a very different way from us.
They sang with more exaggerated emphasis, and with more gusto than
us, as we were far more Anglican in our approach. This was shown
vividly in Perosi's Tu es
Petrus, when every comma counts for about two beats, and
each note was as long as Mgr Palombella indicated.
This is probably one of the most prestigious services that I
will ever sing at.
Matthew Lloyd, aged 13, is a
pupil at Westminster Abbey Choir School.