WASHINGTON, D.C. — Since the 13th century, the Escolania de Montserrat has sung daily for pilgrims at Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey in Catalonia, Spain.
This summer they brought their sacred music — some of it dating back to the Middle Ages — to New Jersey, New York, Washington, San Francisco and Pasadena, California. Their U.S. tour June 28 to July 7 included their debut on the West Coast.
In Washington, the boys choir performed at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception at a morning Mass July 2 and that evening sang at Holy Trinity Church in Georgetown as part of a “Serenade” for President John F. Kennedy to mark his birth 100 years ago. Kennedy worshipped at Holy Trinity. Kennedy Center events honoring the late president July 3 also included a performance by the choir.
The singers’ New York performance was June 29 at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
“Sacred music is important to us, because a monk knows that when he is in the liturgy he is in the presence of God,” Benedictine Brother Efrem de Montella, then deputy headmaster of the Escolania, told Catholic News Service in an interview in 2014 when the choir made its U.S. debut.
The music performed by the choir demands a lot of dedication. The boys leave their homes between the ages of 9 and 14 and spend four or five years at Montserrat. They practice for an hour and 10 minutes a day and sing daily in the church. In addition to singing, the boys play piano and at least one other instrument.
“Today, the aim of the Escolania — as in the past — is the daily participation in the prayer of the sanctuary, singing in front of a very large audience of pilgrims who come from all over the world,” says the choir’s website. “It is one of the objectives of the Escolania to spread sacred music, both of the composers of Montserrat and of internationally renowned composers as well.”
Most of the choristers, when they leave Montserrat, continue with their musical studies, especially over the last decades, where some have developed into noted singers, instrumentalists and conductors.
“Through their singing, the choristers — called ‘escolans’ in Catalan — are messengers of peace and beauty,” the website says. “Using the universal language of music, they cross all kinds of boundaries and speak directly to the hearts of the people who listen to them sing.”