By Laura Ieraci
VATICAN CITY — The usual frenetic sound in the Vatican press hall of journalists hammering away at their computer keyboards was briefly muted yesterday by the powerful and soulful voices of the Walsh University Chamber Singers.
The 26 students, who travelled to Rome from North Canton, Ohio, popped into the press hall after the papal audience for an impromptu concert.
The journalists welcomed the change of pace; some recorded the students’ performance of a Gospel hymn and of Franz Biebl’s Ave Maria in four-part harmony on their cell phones. The choir is directed by Britt Cooper, an associate professor of music at Walsh.
At the papal audience earlier that morning, the students belted out a 45-second tune for Pope Francis when the master of ceremony announced their presence in St. Peter’s Square. Somewhat bittersweet, Pope Francis rode into the square on his popemobile at that very moment, and the cheers of excited pilgrims blotted out their voices.
Their enthusiasm, however, seemed hardly dampened during their performance in the press hall, which took place after a spontaneous request by Danilo Mori, the director of the university’s Italy campus.
The singers were in Rome on their May 2015 Italy Tour; the choir’s first Italy tour was in 2011.
The 2015 tour schedule included several performances at sacred sites, including at Mass at the basilicas of Santa Maria Novella in Florence for Pentecost, May 24, and St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome May 26. They were also to perform at a Memorial Day event at the American Cemetery in Nettuno, about 40 miles outside Rome.
But the choir has welcomed every opportunity to sing — planned or not — performing spontaneously at different sites they have visited, said Mori.
Mori said the choir members are not necessarily music majors, but they are committed to music, practicing six hours per week and polishing their repertoire, which includes songs in English, Italian, French and Latin.
Walsh is a Catholic university, located in the Diocese of Youngstown and founded by the Brothers of Christian Instruction in 1960. It has about 4,000 students.
The university opened a campus in Italy in 2007, located on 10 acres of land in Castel Gandolfo in the hills outside Rome. About 100 students from Walsh come to Italy each year to take part in the fall, spring and summer programs, which offer them an opportunity to “come into contact with the Catholic world and the Catholic identity close-up,” said Mori.