Music from the Sistine Chapel
Music from the Sistine Chapel

When: November 10, 2018, 7:30pm

Where: St. Mark's United Methodist Church

$12 Adults; $5 with Valid Student ID; Free for Age 18 & under


We opened our 49th season Saturday evening, November 10th, 2018, 7:30pm in the resonant sanctuary at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church, with an evening of a cappella music in the pure, ethereal style of the High Renaissance.

Music from the Sistine Chapel presented works composed for the late sixteenth century Papal Court. Featured was Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli, a work that enjoys an almost mythical reputation for having “saved” polyphony by ensuring the intelligibility of the text. Also on the concert were large-scale motets, including Allegri’s famed Miserere and Lotti’s Crucifixus.

The profound intellectual, artistic, and cultural developments that transformed European thinking from the late Medieval period through the sixteenth century permeated music. Music evolved into multiple voices intertwining complex and rich vocal polyphony, all the while exploring the gradual shift from modality to tonality. These remarkable new innovations overlaid with texts deeply rooted in sacred liturgy move listeners of all backgrounds. The Chamber Singers’ focus on authentic performance practice and passionate connections with the music shine through every performance. As an auditioned group of about 40 singers, the choir demonstrates a commitment to attaining the highest standards of choral music.


Here is the program booklet for our concert: Sistine Chapel Program.

You can find a short clip of our concert here.

Here is a preview of our concert in the Bloomington Herald-Times:


Vocal ensemble led by master conductor to perform Saturday

By Peter Jacobi H-T columnist Nov 4, 2018

Gerald Sousa has been artistic director of the Bloomington Chamber Singers since 1989. So, for 29 years, this remarkable choral conductor with outstanding credentials including a doctorate in choral conduction summa cum laude from Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music, has shaped the sounds and artistic soul of this always-a-pleasure-and-satisfaction to listen to ensemble.

He also happens to be director of music at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church where, on Saturday evening at 7:30, he will lead the Chamber Singers in a program of “Music from the Sistine Chapel,” works composed for the late 16th century Papal Court.

The concert’s centerpiece is Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina’s “Missa Papae Marcelli” (“Pope Marcellus Mass”), written in response to the Pope’s complaint about the music he heard performed during Holy Week 1555. The words were too indistinct, he insisted, advising the Papal Choir, “Primo le parole, e poi la musica” (“First the words and then the music.”). Palestrina listened and followed through. Also on the program are two large-scaled motets: Gregorio Allegri’s long-established “Miserere” and Antonio Lotti’s “Crucifixus.”

For vocalists, membership in the Bloomington Chamber Singers is reportedly considered an honored gift to learn from a master teacher. For listeners, to hear the ensemble is, from personal experience, to experience music guided by a master conductor. Sousa is very serious about his responsibilities; add his talent to commitment, and an auditioned community choir becomes outstanding, capable of handling music way beyond expectation.

And nothing chosen is ever easy. Challenge is what Maestro Sousa seeks, for himself and his colleagues. Saturday’s program is no exception.

I asked Gerry Sousa how rehearsals were going, and he responded succinctly with a simple “Very well.”

I asked what lessons he was striving to offer his singers with the program’s repertoire, in that he always seems to have teaching in mind when he chooses selections and motivates his singers through taxing rehearsal periods.

He said: “One of the challenges in performing music of this concert’s period is overcoming the prejudices we develop in singing music of the Baroque and Romantic eras.. This is music that has no bar lines, where the musical pulse is closely related to the style of chant, and where textual accents determine the shape of the lines. Freeing the singers from the tyranny of score notation so that the magnificent polyphony can be heard as independent, yet also interdependent lines, is a challenge that the choir is rapidly meeting.”

I asked what led him to come up with the particular program we’re about to hear.

He said: “Last season, we had the privilege of focusing on Bach exclusively (a series of Bach’s cantatas). That exploration into the pinnacle of Baroque music was tremendously challenging and rewarding. As I considered what path we should take this season, I looked at music and genres that would give our singers and audience a musical experience that contrasted with Bach and at the same time represented a high point in the evolution of Western musical style. In many ways, choral music reached a summit with the sacred music composed by the Roman and Venetian composers at the end of the 16th century. That path seemed to be a worthy successor to the music of Bach.”

I reminded him that he always tends to express a special devotion for whatever music he chooses to program, so I wondered what bonded him to the Palestrina and its companion compositions.

He said: “The relationship of the sacred texts to the music, particularly the care with which Palestrina sets the Mass text so that it is clearly heard and understood by the listener. This is music where the text is all-important; it is the purpose. I have always followed that instinct when performing, and this music provides great opportunity for expressivity that springs from the words themselves.” Thanks, Pope Marcellus, for the prompt!

My questions always include a: What do the performers hope to leave with us at performance end? Gerry Sousa said: “The purity of the writing — for human voices unobscured by instruments.”

That’s for this coming Saturday.

The Bloomington Chamber Singers season continues on Dec. 16 with Handel’s “Messiah” Sing-Along, Part 1; then on March 31 with “Messiah” Sing-Along, Parts 2 and 3; then on April 13 with the Duruflé “Requiem” and Poulenc “Stabat Mater.”

As I said: there are always challenges when Sousa and the BCS get together.

Contact Peter Jacobi at



Here is a review of our concert in the Bloomington Herald-Times:

Piece from the 1550s retains beauty, clarity in singers’ performance

By Peter Jacobi H-T Reviewer Nov 12, 2018

The centerpiece of the Bloomington Chamber Singers’ remarkable concert Saturday evening was Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina’s “Missa Papae Marcelli,” written in the 1550s for the election of Pope Marcellus II. It is a work of distinctive beauty and clarity and, fortunately, was sung that way.
The composition was Palestrina’s immediate response to an edict from the Council of Trent, an ecumenical gathering prompted by the Protestant Reformation that called on composers to set the Mass to music designed to keep the words clear, unencumbered by excessive counterpoint.

Palestrina’s continuing fame rests very much on the “Missa Papae Marcelli,” not so much by now because of its loyalty to a 16th century council order but because it is an absolutely radiant piece of music that reveals the stunning genius of its inspired creator. Saturday’s reading of the piece indicated that the Bloomington Chamber Singers (BCS), a community choir, had been inspired by long-time music director and conductor Gerald Sousa to master and occupy music of great complexity, enriched by polyphony and an ethereal sound not easily grasped by singers attempting to re-create its substance and spirit close to five centuries after written.

And to do so for an audience equally distant, gathered not in a Catholic church for prayer but for artistic sustenance and, perhaps, psychological calm in the sanctuary of a Protestant denomination, St. Mark’s United Methodist Church.

A centerpiece, as the Mass was described above, has to have an environment. And it did. Maestro Sousa placed it within a program titled “Music of the Sistine Chapel,” and that meant companion works, liturgical pieces for the voice written during the Renaissance, masses and motets, by Antoine Brumel, Josquin Desprez, Tomas Luis de Victoria, Felice Anerio, Antonio Lotti, and Orlando de Lassus. Each offered its challenges, and for Sousa’s forces to have captured the lot was an amazing feat.

One heard music of sorrow, of search for enhanced faith, for spiritual peace, for emotional calm, for reduction of fear. The mood throughout engendered quiet, even when blended with intensity.

Toward the end of the hour-long program, Sousa placed the still well-known and much admired “Miserere” of Gregorio Allegri, a series of responses for full choir, small choir, and solos, with words spoken and words delivered by sopranos heaven-high, with shifting rhythms and altering tonal weights, with texts expressing hope for God’s mercy against human transgressions. In effects, the Allegri departed from the rest of this Sistine musical journey but remained a historical and spiritual fit. Sousa and company delivered the “Miserere” with confidence and persuasiveness.

The program in entirety was one the performers could be proud of.