Choirs to unite Oct. 23

Lovers of sacred music will have the rare opportunity to hear from more than a dozen local groups – including numerous Catholic choirs and vocalists from a Jewish temple – at the 25th annual “Gathering of Choirs” hosted by St. Clement of Rome Parish in Metairie.

In all, 14 groups will perform at the multi-denominational, interfaith concert, set for Oct. 23 at 7:30 p.m. inside St. Clement of Rome Church at 4317 Richland Ave., corner of West Esplanade. The event is free and open to the public.

“We just have a lot of fun coming together and listening to each other’s different styles and hearing the different talent,” said Louis Hackett, St. Clement’s choir director since 2008.

“We learn from (being exposed to) each other’s traditions,” Hackett said. “For example, we’re not a Gospel choir, but sometimes, when we hear a really good Gospel choir performing, we’ll say, ‘We’re gonna try that!’”

Singers come together

The concert will begin with a warm-up of all vocalists led by Victoria May, cantorial soloist with Metairie’s Temple Gates of Prayer, the participating Jewish synagogue. A repertoire of sacred music from each of the 14 groups will follow, with the night concluding with all singers performing “America the Beautiful.”

Such high-caliber musical programs do not happen overnight.

On Oct. 1 – the date of one of St. Clement’s 90-minute-long, Wednesday-night choir practices – the meticulous, year-round preparation that goes into Catholic music ministry was on impressive display.

Anticipates coming weekend

After warming up his choir members’ voices with songs specifically designed to help singers with their phrasing, tempo and clarity, Hackett led his group through newly-introduced arrangements of the Gloria and the Alleluia, making sure the latter’s extra wordy interval verse for the next weekend was sung smoothly by the designated cantors.

Much of the session was devoted to practicing the hymns for the coming Sunday – the pre-selected pieces sung at the Gathering, the Offertory, Communion, the post-Communion meditation and the Closing.

Throughout practice, Hackett corrected the pitch of his singers with the help of piano-playing accompanist Marianne Eyles, using musical notation to name the desired notes for his choir members, all of whom are gifted sight-readers. The singers made notes on their song sheets to mark their director’s desired changes in the printed music and the points at which their respective harmonic section – soprano, alto, tenor or bass – was expected to join in.

At one point, Hackett gently upbraided his choir members for “scooping” – or sliding up to a note, rather than singing each note with crisp distinction.

The director also reminded them to resist the temptation to “fade out” at the end of a Psalm verse, to pronounce the final syllables of words, and to crescendo when called upon by the musical piece.

“You sound too timid,” Hackett told them at one point. “We need a sense of meaning!”

While St. Clement of Rome’s full choir of about 30 vocalists sings only at the 10 a.m. Sunday Mass, cantors are on hand to lead congregants at all weekend Masses: the 4 p.m. vigil; and the 8 a.m., 10 a.m., noon and 6 p.m. Masses on Sunday – the final weekend Mass designed as a youth Mass with a choir oriented toward the singing of contemporary praise music.

The parish also offers a 2 p.m. Spanish Mass with its own Spanish-language choir, Hackett said.

Music speaks to the heart

Also elevating St. Clement parishioners’ worship – at special liturgies and events – is an instrumental group of woodwinds, bass guitar, piano, drums and hand bells. The group is rounded out by the St. Clement of Rome Brass Ensemble, a quintet of two trumpets, a trombone, a euphonium and a tuba.

“So many times, people will come up to us after Mass and say how much the music moved them emotionally; not just after weddings and funerals, but on regular Sundays, people will come up and thank us for the music,” said Hackett, whose more than three decades as a choir director include years at St. Francis Xavier in Metairie and Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Belle Chasse.

“Music touches an intimate place in our hearts,” Hackett said. “Our congregants know good music and they appreciate it, and we have a talented group of musicians here.”

Beth Donze can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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