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Festival teaches children about beauty of Church music

St. Bonaventure hosts Pueri Cantores choral festival with youth choirs from all over Florida

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DAVIE | Marie Durtreil has a 10-year-old daughter who likes to sing, just like she did when she was young.

“She sings at home and sometimes we sing together,” Dutreil said.

While listening to her daughter sing at home brings her great joy, Dutreil said her favorite time to hear her daughter sing is when she does it with the choir at their home parish, St. Luke in Palm Springs, a church in the Diocese of Palm Beach.

“You just feel it,” Dutreil said.

At the end of March, her daughter joined about 300 other students gathered at St. Bonaventure Church in Davie to sing at the American Federation Pueri Cantores Miami Choral Festival and Mass. The March 30 event, open to all parish and school treble and mixed voice choirs, between grades four and 12, brought together participants from the Archdiocese of Miami and neighboring dioceses to sing a repertoire ranging from Gregorian chant to contemporary pieces, many of which are sung at Mass.  

“I think people are sometimes surprised by how much is possible musically in the Mass,” said Richard Robbins, guest conductor and clinician at the festival. “This festival is a wonderful way of introducing young people to the beauty of music in the liturgy, and if a student can be inspired to go back to their home parish and school and sing more, and if their parents can be inspired by the beauty that is possible in the liturgy, you never know what the effect is going to be on a person’s heart.”

Robbins has an extensive background conducting choirs, including at the University of Minnesota, Duluth, the Cathedral of Christ the King in Superior, Wisconsin, and the Houston High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, which often performs with the Houston Symphony and the Grammy Foundation. He said his goal in working with young singers is to make them feel that they are succeeding.

Richard Robbins, guest conductor at the American Federation Pueri Cantores Miami Choral Festival and Mass at St. Bonaventure Church, Davie, directs students during rehearsal March 30.

Photographer: CRISTINA CABRERA JARRO| FC

Richard Robbins, guest conductor at the American Federation Pueri Cantores Miami Choral Festival and Mass at St. Bonaventure Church, Davie, directs students during rehearsal March 30.

Dressed in the choir robes, Christian Celian, Dylhann Pierre, and Nicholas Cortes from St. Luke's Church choir in Palm Springs, a part of the Diocese of Palm Beach, pose for a photo before the start of Mass at the American Federation Pueri Cantores Festival at St. Bonaventure Church, Davie.

Photographer: CRISTINA CABRERA JARRO| FC

Dressed in the choir robes, Christian Celian, Dylhann Pierre, and Nicholas Cortes from St. Luke's Church choir in Palm Springs, a part of the Diocese of Palm Beach, pose for a photo before the start of Mass at the American Federation Pueri Cantores Festival at St. Bonaventure Church, Davie.

“That’s always the first thing I’m thinking about. I want them to feel that they are able to participate, that their hard work has paid off, and I would like them to take something new out of the music that they have learned,” said Robbins.

During the festival, he used several hymns to demonstrate that music is not flat, that it has direction. Robbins had students stand and swing and sway their arms during the Kyrie, to help them understand the movement and flow of the music. He also emphasized the vitality of lengthening notes, and properly pronouncing words to better understand them.

“Speak the words in rhythm,” Robbins told students as they rehearsed “A Jubilant Song” by Mary Lynn Lightfoot.

“Let the sea roar, and the floods clap their hands. Let the hills sing together for joy…lift up a jubilant song and make joyful noise, make joyful noise, make joyful noise,” the Pueri Cantores participants repeated.

“Can you imagine the sea roaring and the floods clapping their hands?” Robbins asked. The students replied with laughter.

One hymn was a favorite for members of the St. Bonaventure School choir: “Through North and South” by William Billings. Part of the hymn is sung in a round, or a canon, gradually layering all the voices, so it demonstrates what Robbins described as music not always happening on the beat. “It’s everything that happens in between,” he said.

“It sounds pretty,” said a student from St. Bonaventure.

Many of the St. Bonaventure School choir members were too young to participate the last time the group attended the Pueri Cantores festival in Rome in 2016. But they hope to attend one in the future, not only to sing but to see Pope Francis and then hop over to Pisa to check out its leaning tower.

Elizabeth Jennings, director of the James Cathedral Jubilate Youth Choir from Orlando, remembers taking her choir to Pueri Cantores in Rome in 2015, even after the terrorist attacks in France elicited safety concerns. She told the parents without a doubt they were going.

“I said we’re in God’s hands and that is good enough,” Jennings explained.

At the end of the festival and the trip, she said parents and students couldn’t thank her enough.

In Florida, they have participated in the Pueri Cantores festival for the last five years. The experience gives parishes and schools with small or large choirs the opportunity to be part of a bigger voice.

“The kids like it, and they’re always glad they come,” said Jennings.

Students rehearse at the American Federation Pueri Cantores Miami Choral Festival and Mass, March 30 at St. Bonaventure Church in Davie.

Photographer: CRISTINA CABRERA JARRO| FC

Students rehearse at the American Federation Pueri Cantores Miami Choral Festival and Mass, March 30 at St. Bonaventure Church in Davie.


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