Elizabeth Folger and Michael Zubert served as assistant directors of of the Archdiocesan children’s choir under John Romeri. After Romeri’s resignation in May, Folger and Zubert found themselves in the role of directors of the children’s choir just in time for the World Meeting of Families and Papal Mass. Romeri assisted with the planning, but by June it was clear it would be on them. With that came much responsibility, preparing the children for the World Meeting of Families mass on Thursday at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, a prelude prior to the Papal Mass for clergy and religious at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, and for the Papal Mass on Benjamin Franklin Parkway on Sunday.
For the Thursday morning mass, Zubert was unable to attend, due to his commitments at work. So, Folger stepped up to lead the way, getting assistance from Papal Choir director David Kimock and organist Sandor Kadar. The Thursday morning mass included the World Meeting of Families official hymn, “Sound the Bell of Holy Freedom”, and the setting of Psalm 149 by PrayTell’s own Anthony Ruff, OSB, who also wrote a setting of Psalm 119 for Wednesday’s midday prayer at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Today’s Psalm is from the collection Responsorial Psalms for Weekday Mass from Liturgical Press.
The Philadelphia Archdiocesan children’s choir joined with the Vietnamese children’s choir for the Thursday morning mass. The prelude for the mass, Ðến Mà Ăn by Hoàng Kim, was sung by the Vietnamese choir. The Responsorial Psalm, cantored by a 17 year-old high school student at Little Flower High School, also included a verse in Vietnamese. The Vietnamese choir also took part in some of the English hymns, too.
The mass Thursday morning was attended by upwards of 15,000 people. “I did not understand how many people would be here”, said Folger. “The whole room was full.”
On Saturday, the Archdiocesan children’s choir will assemble on the front steps of the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul prior to the 10:30 a.m. mass scheduled. The Mass will be celebrated with Pope Francis with a congregation of clergy and religious. The choir will sing three pieces as Pope Francis arrives and greets the Bishops and rector of the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, Rev. G. Dennis Gill. The children will not be singing inside; the Archdiocesan choir will sing for that mass.
Sunday at the Papal Mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the children’s choir will be singing along with the adults for as much as “about 75% of the music”, Folger said. The music that would be considered “heavy choral” music will be left out. “It was more about balance than anything else,” said Folger. The children will be the ones singing the Bach/Gounod setting of Ave Maria on their own on Sunday, after the reception of Holy Communion.
For Folger, the highlight of the children’s choir is its diversity, a gift from which the church stands to benefit..
“It’s a very vibrant group,” Folger said. “It’s a side of the church people do not get to see all of the time”
While Folger in some ways thought it to be “terrifying” at the concept of having such an important role and singing for so many people, she felt that the whole process was one that was very collaborative the whole way.
“At no point were we a choir thrown in”, Folger said. “We were never alone”.
Folger pointed to the assistance of the aforementioned Rev. G. Dennis Gill, who in addition to his responsibilities at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul serves as the director for the Office of Divine Worship for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Part of the process included approval from the Holy See, since the mass involved Pope Francis.
Reflecting on the experience, Zubert spoke of the excitement the children have to sing for Pope Francis and to be so close to him:
“It’s a great honor and privilege to have the opportunity to perform with all our young diocesan musicians. The children have worked so very hard and show such care and musiciality in all of their efforts thus far.”
Both Folger and Zubert are active pastoral musicians. In addition to her work with the Archdiocesan children’s choir, Folger serves as a cantor at Saint Ignatius of Antioch Parish in Yardley, PA, Our Lady of Ransom Parish in Northeast Philadelphia, and Saint Jerome Parish in Northeast Philadelphia. In addition to the children’s choir, Zubert serves as a section leader for the choir at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul and frequently sings at parishes in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia when he is free. Folger and Zubert are both music educators during the week.