“We urgently need the community experience again”

Only in small groups of up to twelve singers are the cathedral choirs currently allowed to rehearse. What it is like when all the singers meet again for the first time after five months in the cathedral to sing together was very touching to experience on this Sunday.

the most beautiful pictures

"Singing God's Ways," one of the motto songs of the "Pueri Cantores" choir association and at the top of the Cologne Cathedral Choir's personal hit list, still sounds rather restrained in the enormous church hall. The individual voices can only be heard very tentatively from the spacious nave, but also from the sunlit transepts of Cologne Cathedral. For there sit – taking into account the prescribed safety distance – about 100 families with their choirboys, the members of the cathedral choir aged from nine to about 20 years. Numerous men's voices are also represented, which in comparison to the youngest appear rather sovereign and form the supporting framework to the motets carefully selected for this occasion.

At least a beginning

But the special acoustics of the cathedral make it difficult even for them to pay attention to the delicate soprano and alto voices of their small, rather shy choir colleagues and to present the works conducted by choirmaster Eberhard Metternich in the crossing together with them in the way one is used to from the 150-strong ensemble during the liturgy.

But it is already a start. After long months of lockdown, many cancelled rehearsals, masses, concerts and also concert tours – in August the cathedral choir was supposed to travel to Portugal and the girls' choir at Cologne Cathedral to Italy – the cathedral conductor wants to restore something like normality for his singers – at least for a moment. For this, he and his colleague from the cathedral, Oliver Sperling, developed the idea of an extraordinary service, which the cathedral's dean, Msgr. Robert Kleine this Sunday and which should be like a starting signal for the new school and choir year. While Sperling celebrated this spiritual prelude with the girls exclusively in the cathedral last Sunday, this Sunday it is now Eberhard Metternich's turn to do so. Above all, however, the two choirmasters are expressing their heartfelt desire to bring their respective ensembles together once again as a large singing community in the place from which they derive their purpose and their self-image: namely in Cologne Cathedral.

Hope for relaxation in the new NRW protection ordinance

Visibly moved, Metternich therefore also welcomes the many families who have accepted his invitation this afternoon and who, together with the Cathedral Music Director, wish for nothing more than that choir operations can be fully resumed as soon as possible and that all the children and young people can once again do what they love to do: namely sing. And that out of a deep joy. "Now, after 30 years of service as cathedral conductor, I am really excited once again before a service in Cologne Cathedral," Metternich confesses in a trembling voice. "I can hardly believe that I am seeing you all here again after these long months," he says happily. Then he explains that the team of the cathedral music is in the process of working out perspectives for communal singing and that the meeting with Minister President Armin Laschet a good week ago also served to present the request of all NRW cathedral conductors to hopefully be allowed to rehearse in larger polyphonic groups again in the near future and that this will also be taken into account in the decrees of the new corona protection ordinance of the state government, which will presumably be published at the beginning of September.

"As a choir, we urgently need a perspective. And we need the community experience, because we must feel that we are still a large choir community – of course with as little risk of infection as possible," emphasizes Metternich in his welcoming speech. "But when singing together, listening to each other and eye contact are essential elements. And polyphony in the boys' choir is only possible when the youngest sing together with the experienced singers in groups of 20 or 30."

Then the choirmaster thanks all the children and young people for having persevered so long, even under the difficult rehearsal conditions. "With strength and patience, we will get through this crisis together," he encourages his singers and wishes everyone "that we overcome this lean period together". Every opportunity should be used to promote choral singing in larger units.

"You can turn the key and open doors"

For weeks, those responsible for the cathedral music have received moral support from Cathedral Dean Robert Kleine, who was formerly a school chaplain at the Cologne Cathedral Singing School and also finds encouraging words for his young listeners. In his sermon, he empathetically states that the choirs at the cathedral had suffered particularly from the restrictions of the lockdown, because they had missed meeting and making music in community, group activities and choir weekends, as well as the liturgy and preparation for concerts. Fortunately, however, the key of the lockdown is now slowly being turned – albeit cautiously and not yet everywhere and also not directly. Even congregational singing is still rather tentative. Therefore, there can be no talk of a return to the usual, to carefree and carefree togetherness. Nevertheless, there is hope that the resumed work of the choirs can continue, taking into account the current rules.

City dean Kleine: "You are key figures"

With a bunch of keys in his hand, Kleine pursues the thought that for many doors the corresponding key is needed, but then what is locked can be opened. With this image he vividly explains that sometimes it is only necessary to turn a key in order to reach the desired goal. This applies as much to singing as it does to faith. The time of the pandemic had once again made clear that living in community depends on solidarity. "Christianity is not a religion for lone wolves. And Jesus Christ himself does not leave us standing in front of a closed door," said the cathedral chaplain in his spiritual word. It is much more important to see oneself as a big family in the church and to be there for the other person, to reach out to each other, to have him in mind. "We are all called to put the key in the lock and to open doors. For no one shall remain at a closed door. Whoever has the right key decides who can come in when and where, or to whom the door remains closed."In faith everyone has this kind of key power. "You are all key figures," he called out to the choristers in the cathedral. "Never forget: the key for each other and for God is in your own hands."

Parallel to today in the history of the Cologne Cathedral Choir

Already once in its more than 150-year history, the Cologne Cathedral Choir had faced an uncertain time, Metternich recalls the 1943 bombing of Cologne, to which the then Cathedral conductor Johannes Molders had fallen victim, and, before formulating a prayer for all, draws parallels to the current uncertainty. Nevertheless, the continuation of the choir, in whose great tradition he sees himself today, was courageously pursued, said the cathedral musician. "Even now we will revive our commitment and, trusting in God, we will not lose sight of our goal. Only many different voices merge into this sound, which makes us and which – if it is missing – makes the whole extent of the loss clear."

And then, at the end, the cathedral conductor once again intones the chant that sounds like a perseverance slogan in this magnificent sacred architecture, despite all external circumstances. And in doing so, it goes right through the heart of every cathedral choir singer, because it is something like the theme song of the Cologne cathedral choirs, with which the singers are themselves of themselves and their message at the end of this very moving service: "Tria sunt munera – three gifts are what the magi brought to the Lord…"

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