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S.L. choir's trip nearly perfect

When they arrived at St. Peter's, the children of Salt Lake's Madeleine Choir School learned Pope John Paul II would not be there to hear them sing Mass. They were disappointed.

The parents were disappointed, too, said Chris Roberts, father of a choir member. Roberts phoned the Deseret News Sunday after the service at St. Peter's Basilica. But, he said, everyone was comforted once the service began - comforted and proud.The choir sang at other churches and schools during their week in Rome, and Roberts said, "Not to downplay the other Masses we served, but St. Peter's was by far the most moving. Just the sheer immenseness of it. . . . There were 56 co-concelebrants with the cardinal, 56 people in the procession with him."

Cardinal Noe, archpriest of St. Peter's, celebrated the Mass and spoke with choir members afterward. Meanwhile, although the pope did not attend the Sunday Mass at St. Peter's, he began his regular noon prayers from a balcony outside the church, and the choir went onto the plaza for a papal blessing.

By then, Roberts said, the children were "just glowing."

Michael Glenn, 13, one of four head choristers who also spoke with the Deseret News, said the after-school choir became a full-time school in 1996.

In the beginning, he never thought they'd be good enough to sing Mass in Salt Lake City, much less in Rome. "St. Peter's was amazing," he said. Previously, "the Cathedral of the Madeleine was a big place to me."

When he first saw the basilica, he thought, "How are we going to get our sound all the way out there?"

But they did, and they sounded good, according to Glenn, who is used to listening for the small things and growing tense over the tiniest mistakes. "This morning we sang it right. Oh yeah, very right."

Before they left for Rome, Madeleine Choir Director Gregory Glenn (no relation to Michael) explained what the group would sing at St. Peter's: The "ordinary" of the Mass - texts routinely sung at every Mass, such as the Kyrie - are, at St. Peter's, required to be Gregorian chants.

The "proper" parts of the Mass are texts that change, depending upon the calendar. The "proper" can be polyphony, or many-voiced.

So, in St. Peter's, the Salt Lake group sang some parts that sounded like chants and some that sounded like choir music, including the Charles-Marie Widor setting of "Tu es Petrus," (You are Peter, and upon this rock . . . ).

"Tu es Petrus" is often sung at St. Peter's Basilica, which is built over the tomb of Peter. Jenna Dobesh, 12, said "Tu es Petrus" is "probably the one we did the best."

Noelle Sharp, 13, is also a head chorister. She called their trip a pilgrimage, which means "following in Christ's footsteps and seeing what meaning he has to other people in the world, not just to Americans."

There are nearly 300 Utahns on the pilgrimage, including 100 children, members of the cathedral's adult choir, some teachers and scores of parents.

On Sunday evening, the choir performed at St. Ignatius Church. Roberts explained that the Sunday evening concerts are a centuries-old Roman tradition and that only the most talented choirs are invited.

It was to be a wonderful ending to a wonderful day, a day they might have described as perfect if the children had only been able to sing for the pope.

But 10-year-old chorister Sean Strickland gave this perspective on perfection, disappointment, Peter and the whole trip: "People make pilgrimages to try new things. They go and explore. In Rome, I've learned that Utah is not so old compared to this place. And great art is really amazing. And that these people have a lot of different customs than we do.

"Mr. Glenn told us this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, enjoy it while it lasts."

And so Sean was not nervous, and he did enjoy how well they sang at the church that is Peter's.

He said, "St. Peter was very noble and an honest person that died because of his faith, and he knew that nobody could be higher than God." And probably St. Peter knew nothing in this life is perfect. "And he knew nobody can top God. So, just do the best you can."