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St. Peter's Basilica

8th November 2010

St. Peter's Basilica / Photo credit: Akiko Takahashi

Last week I wrote about the Cathedral Choir’s involvement in the Papal audience, which could arguably be called a high point of our Roman excursion from the standpoint of its basic WHAM!-factor. (During the event, a number of us agreed that most Protestants don’t generally get to have that much fun.) As a result of all this enthusiasm, one reader commented, “Sounds as if the Vatican staff is very organized.”

That statement proves that everything is a matter of opinion.

We were scheduled to sing at the official Saturday-afternoon opening Mass of the Festival, at St. Peter’s. More WHAM!-factor. As arranged, we showed up and were led into an entrance off a rear courtyard. (I now understand why people seem surprised to learn that St. Patrick’s has rear entrances. It had never occurred to me that St. Peter’s has back doors. Of course it has. What was I expecting?) Into the choir stalls surrounding one of the two organs. And that’s when the trouble started: As our organist was preparing to open the lid, an usher darted over—“Non toccare! Is . . . broken!” The organ, which had been healthy the day before, had apparently suffered an overnight crack-up. We’d have to sing with the support of St. Peter’s second organ, located about a mile and a half away on the other side of the chancel.

This wasn’t a happy situation (and it was underlined by the usher, who strolled by periodically during the Mass to stare impassively at the choir members—perhaps as a welcoming gesture?). To top it off, we discovered, after the Mass, that the amplification system had pooped out. Or hadn’t been turned on.

An ironic situation: During the entire week-long festival, not one of the musical performances was amplified, and given the superb acoustics of Rome’s churches, none of them needed to be. Except at the largest church in the world, St. Peter’s Basilica.

One of our friends said, “What you could hear, was nice . . . ”


Written by Salvatore Basile, author of Fifth Avenue Famous: The Extraordinary Story of Music at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

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