Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 July 2019

Pope Francis Mass choir to hold singalong with early crowds

Faithful who gather at stadium before Pope Francis arrival will practise five hymns with choir

A choir of 120 people from different nationalities has been put together following auditions and will be performing at Pope Francis's Mass in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday. Courtesy Avosa
A choir of 120 people from different nationalities has been put together following auditions and will be performing at Pope Francis's Mass in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday. Courtesy Avosa

Early attendants to Pope Francis’s open-air Mass on Tuesday may be welcomed by the sound of thousands of people joining in with choir practice.

The 120-strong, cross-church choir, which was put together especially for the event, will rehearse with the early crowds inside Zayed Sports City to make sure everyone is in tune for the first papal Mass in the Arabian Peninsula.

They will practise five well-known hymns, picked from the 17 that will be sung during the service proper, in two sessions at 8am and 9am on Tuesday.

The Mass will take place at 10.30am and will be attended by 135,000 people.

The wider set list will include Christ be Our Light as the entrance song, followed by All That I Am for the offertory, or symbolic offering of gifts at the altar.

For the communion, there will be Make Me a Channel of Your Peace and Soul of my Saviour, and Tell Out My Soul will be the final hymn after blessings from the Pope.

The experience of thousands of voices resonating in sync with the choir is expected to be powerful.

Members of the multinational choir from across the Emirates have day jobs as music teachers and interior designers.

They have been hard at work over the past three weeks rehearsing in two groups at St Joseph’s Cathedral in Abu Dhabi and St Francis of Assisi church in Dubai.

The group, who were selected from more than 280 people from auditions, will get together at the stadium for the first time on Monday evening.

Joy Santos, 39, from the Philippines, is the choir conductor and in her day job she teaches music at a Dubai school.

She said the morning practice sessions will also give the choir a chance to sing in front of the large crowd.

“I have handled big Masses in church before, but never numbers this large,” she said.

“Imagine having the whole stadium sing with us. We will start warming up the crowds and teach them some songs so they become familiar with them.”

Ms Santos said that the choir sang for the first time with the brass ensemble and pipe organ over the weekend.

“We have been practising hard so that people who speak different languages with different diction sound like one voice,” she said.

Arabic-language hymn Assakiroo Sama — or Legions of Heaven — will be sung as a four-part harmony.

The song required careful preparation as the large numbers of non-Arabic singers in the choir had to get the correct intonation.

Choir leader for Arabic Mass at St Mary’s Catholic Church in Dubai, Roy Istanbul, 49, wrote the song out in English to make it easier.

It is a message of love for everybody

Roy Istanbul, Choir leader for Arabic Mass

“There are some Arabic letters that are very difficult to pronounce, but we fine-tuned it and they are singing very well. It sounds like real Arabic and not English-Arabic now,” said Mr Istanbul, a Syrian interior designer who is also the assistant choir director for the event.

He said a message of peace would echo through the songs.

“All of us coming together for the event shows how we live together in one community,” he said.

“The hymns truly show that we are all brothers and are not divided by region or religion. It is a message of love for everybody.”

There are 15 Arabic speakers from Lebanon, Syria and Jordan in the final set of singers.

Gerard Bselis is part of the Arabic choir and works in the luxury goods sector. It has been a new experience for him to harmonise with different nationalities.

“It has been quite fascinating to see so many people sing in the same rhythm. Although we may have trained differently, when we come together as part of this big choir everything merges perfectly and it is an amazing feeling,” he said.

Indian software engineer Joysun Dsouza said his prayers have been answered. He has worked in various jobs, from a technology company in Saudi Arabia to teaching music in Dubai.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity," he said.

"My wife, who is also a music teacher, and I have always dreamed that we would go to Rome as part of a choir. We never thought this would happen in Dubai.

"There is nothing more that I could wish for.”

Updated: February 4, 2019 08:10 PM