Jeffrey Byrd, St. Mary’s City resident and biology professor at St. Mary’s College, will soon sing before the pope. He is a member of the Archdiocesan Papal Mass Choir, an elite choir assembled from across the region to sing at Pope Francis’s Junipero Serra Canonization Mass in D.C. on Sept. 23.
Out of a pool of over 350 applicants invited to audition by the Archdiocese of Washington, Byrd was one of 90 to advance through the rigorous audition process where musical selections were performed in English, Latin, and Spanish. Those invited were only given days to prepare.
Despite the demanding process—and having recuperated from a two-year stint of laryngitis only months prior to the audition in May—Byrd says he felt at ease. “I wasn’t nervous then,” he says, “but now I’m getting nervous realizing I have to sing for a Mass that will be telecast live around the world.”
Byrd’s choir is the biggest of five singing at the 25,000-ticketed event—with millions expected to tune in, as it will be the first-ever canonization Mass on U.S. soil.
Rehearsals commenced in September and are held in Hyattsville, Md. And at two-and-half-hours long without break, Byrd says rehearsals are intense, yet rewarding. “It’s an incredible experience and a once in a lifetime opportunity that has pushed me more than anything else I can imagine.”
The choir is directed by Thomas Stehle, who is the chief music director for the Mass. The music list includes arrangements of “Simple Gifts” and “Zion’s Walls” by American composer Aaron Copland, songs by Argentine composer Pablo Sosa, as well as Latin acclamations and hymns.
Byrd is singing bass.