‘Pope’s Choir’ awes Detroit crowd at Ste. Anne

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Detroit — Heavenly voices soared to the ornate ceiling of Ste. Anne de Detroit as dusk descended Friday night, mingling to express age-old messages about redemption and mercy.

The richly robed singers who awed a large audience were from the Sistine Chapel Choir — commonly known as “the Pope’s Choir.” And they graced what is believed to be Detroit’s oldest parish as part of their first Motor City visit.

The concert was a monumental moment for Ste. Anne, considered among the oldest parishes in the United States, as well as Detroit, said Monsignor Charles Kosanke, who leads the congregation.

“This is truly meant to be a gift to our city,” he told the diverse crowd of about 1,000 guests. “…I am very grateful to the holy father, Pope Francis, for sharing his personal choir with us tonight.”

The group, officially known as the Cappella Musicale Pontificia Sistina, is considered the oldest and most prominent choir in the world, boasting records dating some 1,500 years.

It is led by Monsignor Massimo Palombella, includes about 50 members, sings for papal liturgies and in 2016 won the Echo Klassik classical music award.

Their appearance Friday came a day before a public concert at the Detroit Opera House. Both coincide with the group’s first American outing in more 30 years, which also included performances at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City and the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C, officials said.

The Ste. Anne event drew invited guests representing regional schools, music students, churches and other groups, according to coordinators. It also featured a prelude with recitals by St. Luke’s Catholic Choir & Prescott Chorale, Mosaic Youth Singers and University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance Chamber Choir.

The central focus was the Sistine Chapel Choir, whose members harmonized for nearly an hour at the parish front.

Sunlight faded beyond the colorful stained glass windows as the members lifted their voices to sing selections such as Orlando di Lasso’s “Magnificat Primi Toni” and Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina’s “Exsultate Deo.”

Dressed in white and crimson robes, the men and boys recited Latin lyrics referencing Scripture, praising God and the kingdom of heaven.

Some attendees in the brown pews, including those dressed in finery, fanned themselves against the unseasonable warmth. Many were moved by the melodies and gave a lengthy standing ovation.

“I closed my eyes and thought it was the angels singing,” said Dorothy Alcala of Detroit, who attends services at the parish. “It was just beautiful.”

Grant Anderson, a Metro Detroiter who has been active with area choirs, marveled at how the singers enlivened ancient compositions.

“The acoustical perfection and the waves of sound — it made me feel like I was at the cathedral,” he said. “It surpassed my expectations.”

While the concert sparked wonder indoors at the church, it was streamed live on the large outdoor digital boards at Cobo Center as well as the Archdiocese of Detroit website. The Catholic Television Network of Detroit is scheduled to rebroadcast the concert next month.

The choir’s presence attests to how Detroit is enhancing its stature, Carmen Ragland, a St. Aloysius member, said after the concert.

“The very fact they would consider coming to our city — that tells us what the Pope and Vatican thinks about us. It’s a beautiful gift for the city.”

Tickets for the public event, held at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday at the Detroit Opera House, can be purchased online.