Two years ago, the first Englishman to join the Sistine Chapel Choir took his place among its choristers in Rome. Here the baritone describes the life of the choir as they prepare with the Pope to celebrate Advent and Christmas
choristers the world over will tell you, Christmas and Advent is by far the busiest time of year. December is for any of us a seemingly never ending blur of carols and Messiahs until Christmas Day when we can finally relax (though not before we’ve sung the morning service on four hours’ sleep, after getting in late from Midnight Mass and too much mulled wine the night before). For those of us in the Sistine Chapel Choir in Rome, a Vatican Christmas is a particularly special experience. Though somewhat different in style to the carols-and-mince-pies Christmases familiar to people in Northern Europe, it is still a time that the Church marks with great celebration after a long period of Advent reflection.
For the adult singers, the Christmas season started in earnest in the first week of December when a group of us were sent to sing a special concert in Bethlehem. There we were joined by a Palestinian orchestra, a virtuoso Russian violinist and an American soprano for a diverse, if somewhat eclectic, collection of Christmas music for German television. The Church of the Nativity is undergoing major restoration work so the concert was in the Church of St Catherine next door. However, we did visit the actual grotto where it is said that Jesus was born and laid in a manger, and there we sang “Ave Maria”. An extraordinary experience, and a dramatic way to begin the Christmas season.