Director Joe Balistreri says sacred music aims to 'inspire beauty' and lead listeners to 'Eucharistic amazement'

Listen to a sample of the Archdiocesan Chorus' music

DETROIT — The Temptations, Aretha Franklin, Eminem, The White Stripes.

Detroit music just finds a way of getting around the world. And next April, Detroit’s Archdiocesan Chorus will be heading to Poland for Divine Mercy Sunday.

The Archdiocesan Chorus of Detroit will be one of three American cathedral choirs to sing at the Divine Mercy Sanctuary in Krakow on April 19, 2020. Chorus director Joe Balistreri said nearly 50 singers, their families, friends and a priest to serve as chaplain for the group will make the trip.

“We’re really excited to get invited to Krakow,” Balistreri said. “We’re going to sing the High Mass on Divine Mercy Sunday with two other American cathedral choirs.”

The Archdiocesan Chorus already has some pretty impressive performances under its belt, including singing during Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome in 2016. This trip coincides with the 100th anniversary of the birth of St. John Paul II, so the group will be spending the whole week in Poland, Balistreri said.

“Because it’s the 100th birthday of St. John Paul II, we’re going on a JPII tour, to different sites from his life, looking at his past,” Balistreri said. “We’ll sing a concert in another church in Krakow, but the main (event) will be celebrating with the Polish people the feast of the Divine Mercy. We sing a little bit of Polish music already, and since the Mass will be public, it will probably be in Polish.”

Just about everyone in the chorus is thrilled with the news, but the trip has special meaning for St. Matthew in Detroit parishioner Kathy Lozon, who is half-Polish and looks forward to the trip to reconnect with her cultural roots.

“The choir we’re singing in is a world-class choir with many talented singers with music degrees, and volunteers like myself,” Lozon said. “We already had an experience going to Europe back in 2016, touring Rome and singing at the Vatican for the feast of the Epiphany, and we just loved it. But now we have a chance to see Poland, a beautiful country, to experience the country, the people, and sing such sacred, beautiful music. It’s not taken for granted.”

Resurgent choir

It’s been an impressive run for the Detroit Archdiocesan Chorus in recent years.

A year after singing for the pope at St. Peter's Basilica in 2016, the choir had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to host the Sistine Chapel Choir for a series of concerts in Detroit in September 2017. 

Open auditions for the Archdiocesan Chorus' 2019-2020 season, which will include a trip to Poland for Divine Mercy Sunday, will be held Sept. 4-5. (Joe Skipinski | Special to Detroit Catholic) 

It’s all part of a resurgence of the choir since 2012, according to Balistreri, and the work of each chorus member.

“We reformed the archdiocesan choir in 2012, to make it a model of excellence,” Balistreri said. “People worked really hard, learning and praying their music. Being invited to Poland is confirmation for us that this work is worth it, that beauty is worth it. No matter where you are in the world, there is a need for beauty; people hunger for beauty.”

The Archdiocesan Chorus culls singers from across southeast Michigan and the Windsor area. It's the resident choir for the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament, singing at most major liturgical events.

“It’s a community that comes from all over, the crème de la crème, who are so devoted in their preparations and rehearsals with Joe,” Lozon said. “Joe brings such energy to the choir; he's determined to bring out our best sound. People attending a special Mass or concert have a chance to hear a really skilled, devoted group.”

Lozon added the chorus is “like a family” — people of all backgrounds with a common purpose centered on sacred music.

“I’m a registered nurse, music isn’t my profession,” Lozon said. “But I love to share my gift with such a talented group of people.”

Those interested in joining the chorus for its 2019-2020 season, which begins in September, are invited to audition next week. 

All interested and returning singers are required to schedule a brief audition on Wednesday, Sept. 4, from 6-9 p.m. or Thursday, Sept. 5, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Singers will be asked to bring a selection to sing and complete a sight-reading test. For more information, contact Balistreri at (313) 237-5782 or Theresa Mifsud at (313) 237-5934.

The chorus rehearses on Monday nights from 7-9 p.m. and has 12 liturgical commitments or concerts throughout the year. More information on the chorus can be found here.

Members of the Archdiocesan Chorus sing during most major liturgical events at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Detroit, in addition to special concerts and Masses throughout the year. (Naomi Vrazo | Detroit Catholic) 

Among the many events of note, Balistreri said, is an Oct. 20 concert called “Gregoriana” that will feature traditional Gregorian chant and improvised music to create a “one-of-a-kind” listening experience.  

“We’re combining new and old forms of music,” Balistreri said of the concert, which will kick off the 2019-2020 Cathedral Cultural Series, a season-long musical event series hosted by the Archdiocese of Detroit. “The diocesan choir will be broken into small groups all over the cathedral, singing Gregorian chant, and as soon as they finish the chant, there is going to improvisations. We have a jazz professor from Schoolcraft College, a vocal improviser, and I’m going to improvise on the organ. 

“It’s going to be ever-ancient and ever-new,” Balistreri added, “a collage concert with no breaks between the music.”

Joy in music

The honors and accolades the Detroit Archdiocesan Chorus has received of late are welcomed, but not surprising to Balistreri.

“When the reform of the choir took place (in 2012), we went from coming together to sing the Pontifical Masses and rehearsals to being a residential choir,” Balistreri said. “The choir got together once a week, but now we have singers work outside rehearsal, and we have a stricter attendance policy commitment from everyone in the choir. Everyone is pulling their weight, working together as a team.”

Balistreri said the chorus' goal is to amaze and inspire visitors who come to the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament for special occasions.

“The biggest joy I have when I’m conducting is when the choir is singing, and we have a certain unity that transcends the text,” Balistreri said. “It never happens in rehearsal, but during Mass, when we feel that incredible unity — when the Holy Spirit is there — there is so much joy. At that moment, we’re so much greater than the sum of our parts. It’s a tighter, more joyful sound.”

Balistreri added the choir's purpose, first and foremost, is to give glory to God.

“In Unleash the Gospel, Archbishop Vigneron talks about the need for everyone to kindle a 'Eucharistic amazement,'” Balistreri continued. “The holy Eucharist is so amazing, and we have to adore it with amazing beauty. It should inspire beauty. It should sound like we’re amazed in the presence of the Living God.

“When the archbishop is at the cathedral, he represents a united church in Detroit, so everything about the Mass should scream beauty,” Balistreri added. “That is when I wish we could increase our effort three-fold; when Christ comes into our world, we need to offer beauty. It’s beauty that will save the world.”

Listen to the choir

Archdiocesan Chorus singing the Kyrie from the Requiem of Maurice Duruflé at the All Souls Day Mass at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament, Nov. 2, 2018.

More information

To learn more about the Archdiocesan Chorus of Detroit, including how to audition, visit www.aod.org/music