Cathedral Girls Choir

Mandi Gureki traveled from her Lansdale home to the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul last August because she thought it would be “fun” to sing in the newly formed Cathedral Girls Choir. But after a heart-stopping moment when she was told the session she attended was actually an audition, her spirits sank.

Gureki was so nervous when she sang that she thought she’d blown it. She didn’t.

The 16-year-old, whose experience included the children’s choir at St. Stanislaus — her home parish — and the choir at Corpus Christi in North Wales, was both stunned and exhilarated when she was told she made the cut. Gureki represented the cream-of-the-crop material that met the exacting standards set by archdiocesan liturgical music director, Dr. John Romeri.

Gureki and 23 other girls ranging from fourth-graders to late teens began rehearsing in earnest in October and on a recent snowy Saturday morning, dutifully performed vocal exercises before filling their practice room with angelic voices while singing “The Lord is My Shepherd” and other selections.

They were getting ready for a choir festival and special Masses at the Cathedral. In their short time together, they have already performed in Washington, D.C.

Before the rehearsal began, Romeri took a few minutes to describe his work with the choir and its importance to the Archdiocese.

“This is a select group,” Romeri said. “This is what you’d call the ‘honors’ choir, members who can learn complicated things quickly. They really do represent the Archdiocese at major events. These girls are the best of what choir directors at various parishes send us.”

Romeri said choir members enthusiastically embrace the sacred music presented to them. They are challenged to do their best, to use — or develop — singing skills to perform the “great treasure trove” of liturgical music and chants hosted at the Cathedral, he said.

Romeri’s goals reach beyond the practice room or the Cathedral choir loft. He aims to build a new generation that will come to appreciate not only music, but the complexity of the liturgy. He wants the group to expand its repertoire and develop new skills that will benefit both the choir and the members’ home parishes, he said.

“There are many talented singers out there, but not all have the passion needed to succeed. I look for that passion,” he said.

Devoted as he is to the sacred liturgy, his rehearsals are not all solemn. He conducts with energy, a smile and even a joke or two. His teaching methods elicit the occasional giggle as well as rapt attention. Romeri seems to hit just the right note with his students, but he’s “on stage” in more profound ways with some, like Emily Gaggiano.

Emily, 17, joined the choir to “network,” to use it as a sort of spiritual stepping stone to her future. She wants to go to Westminster Choir College at Princeton University. That’s where Romeri obtained a master’s degree in music.

“I love choral music. I want to get a doctorate in composition,” said Gaggiano, a resident of Northeast Philadelphia and a member of St. Christopher Parish.

Romeri’s choir members come from a variety of backgrounds and have different levels of musical experience. But having them perform together regularly is what makes them a family and helps create the “chemistry” that makes a choir work.

“They’re not just a bunch of talented singers getting together to sing,” he said.

Auditions for the girls’ choir are scheduled for August and prospective candidates can register by calling 215-587-3696 or by visiting www.archphilamusic.org.