While the Vatican may not record such milestones, the Indiana Wesleyan University Chorale may have established a record for the longest performance ever by a visiting university choir at St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.
The Chorale, which spent 11 days touring Italy in May, was invited to participate in a mid-week Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica. The invitation was based on recordings of the chorale that were sent to the Vatican well in advance of the tour.
“We were asked to perform as the choir for a Wednesday evening Mass,” said Dr. Todd Guy, chorale director. “We sent our repertoire to the Vatican, and they chose the pieces they wanted us to sing.” In addition to the Mass itself, the chorale was asked to sing one piece during the communion service. “So many people stayed to take communion, however, that Vatican officials asked us to sing three or four additional pieces,” Guy said. “We ended up doing eight pieces, which was basically our full concert.”
The Chorale sang in an area of St. Peter’s that normally seats 750 people, but Vatican officials estimated that 1,000 people crowded in to hear the Chorale. St. Peter’s Basilica, which seats 60,000 people, has the largest interior of any Christian church in the world.
The Chorale performed most of the music at St. Peter’s in Latin, which is what Vatican officials had requested for Mass. “What was so exciting is that some of the pieces we performed were written by composers such as Palestrina, and were written specifically to be performed at St. Peter’s,” Guy said. “Palestrina wrote the music in the 1500s and here we were in the 21st century still singing the songs in St. Peter’s.” Giovanni Pierluigi de Palestrina was an Italian who wrote mostly Christian music and who worked as a church musician at St. Peter’s.
In addition to the concert at St. Peter’s, the Chorale did nine other performances at major Cathedrals in Italy, in cities such as Venice and Florence. Most of those performances were planned, but a few were impromptu.
Dr. Michael Buck, an IWU Professor of English, also traveled to Italy with Guy and the 48 Chorale members who participated in the tour. Buck taught a class in British Literature, which several Chorale members took.
Pope Benedict XVI had conducted a Mass in St. Peter’s Square earlier in the day, but the IWU delegation did not arrive in Vatican City in time to see the Pope, Guy said.