Four years ago, Georgetown’s Chapel Choir had a handful of members, little identity and a new director fresh out of graduate school. Now, the 40-member group performs for a growing crowd at the weekly 9:30 p.m. Sunday Mass and is gearing up for a trip to Italy to sing for the pope himself.
When Russell Weismann was hired as Georgetown’s first director of music and liturgy in 2007, he was charged with revamping the neglected choir. Seven students showed up for the first rehearsal.
“They didn’t really have an idea of who they were,” Weismann said.
But the choir grew quickly during the first year, driven by the dedication of its members.
Weismann said the group has had its share of failures, performing pieces that seemed to fall apart as the choir sang them. But these days, he said, its work has mostly been marked by success.
“More and more people are coming to the Mass,” said Robert Gregory (COL ’11), student director of the choir. “More and more people are becoming kind of groupies of the choir.”
Mary Kate Holman (COL ’11), the oldest member of the chorus, said the group’s preparation for their first annual Lessons and Carols for Advent service at Holy Trinity Church was a defining moment for them.
“It was this one day where we were all working towards this one beautiful thing,” she said.
Weismann said the positive feedback he received after the service convinced him that all their work was paying off.
“It kind of put us on the map,” he said.
The Chapel Choir is the largest student choir on campus and the primary choir for Dahlgren Chapel. They perform every week at the 9:30 p.m. Mass on Sundays for a congregation that has included community members from University President John J. DeGioia to O Street Resident Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.).
The choir sings a wide variety of music, including renaissance and contemporary works, to accompany the service.
“Music holds a very high place in the liturgy,” Gregory said. “It’s our responsibility to help them pray through song.”
Although spirituality is an important part of the choir’s mission, not all of its members are Catholic. Gregory counted Jewish, Mormon and Protestant students — along with a Jesuit — among the members.
“I think it really speaks to the way that music connects people. It’s such a universal language,” he said.
Holman said that the choir has become a community over the past few years, bound by spirituality, social events and a tradition of group back-rubs before warming up at rehearsal.
“We strike a really good balance of fun and serious,” she said.
In May, about 37 of the group’s 40 members will travel to Italy to perform at sites in Rome, Florence and Assisi. Among their stops will be a Mass for Georgetown alumni at the Church of the Gesu, the mother church of the Society of Jesus and a Sunday Mass at the Vatican.
“We have known about the Italy pilgrimage for well over a year now, and it is still honestly a very surreal idea for me,” said Monica Perrigino (COL ’12), who has been a member of the choir since her freshman year.
For Weismann, the trip will be bittersweet. This year, he has been working full time as the organist and associate director of music at the Basilica of the National Shrine while continuing to work with the choir, but after this year he will be leaving Georgetown to dedicate more time to the Basilica.
“I kind of feel like a member of the Class of 2011,” he said, looking back on his four years at Georgetown. “I feel like this trip is a great way to go out with a bang.”