La Escolania de Montserrat is a liturgical boys choir school whose mission, according to the schools ’headmaster Efrem de Montellà, is “to sing and celebrate the liturgy of Montserrat monastery and allow visiting pilgrims to experience God through the beauty of music”. The choir sings in Montserrat around 450 times a year, which means there are days they sing twice or even three times, but they also do performances away from the monastery, disseminating the music of Montserrat, and Catalan music, to the world.
Is the choir also a school?
Yes, because in addition to singing, the choirboys have to study, of course. But we aren’t a school that has children sing. We’re a choir that also has a school to educate the boys in the choir. And, since we are where we are, we also have a residence, because practically none of the choirboys live close enough to Montserrat to go home every day. If they do live near Montserrat and want to go home every day, they can, of course.
In the past year, the choir has performed away from the monastery again.
Yes. The main mission of the choir is to sing in Montserrat, but for more than 50 years we have also sung outside the monastery. So 10 to 14 times a year we do a concert away from here, mostly in Catalonia, but when we receive invitations we also go abroad. In 2022, we went to Nuremberg, Germany, as guests for the 75th anniversary of the Windsbacher Knabenchor. This autumn we spent 10 days in the US, on a tour we were already preparing before the pandemic.
Had the choir already been to the US?
Yes, it was the third time. This time we were invited to participate in a festival organised by the monasteries of St. John’s, Minnesota, and St. Vincent’s, of Pennsylvania, which are the oldest Benedictine monasteries in the country, and by the VocalEssence choir of Minneapolis.
This year you’re going to Australia?
Yes, in March we’re taking part in a festival that’s held in Adelaide every two years. There’s a lot of desire to do things since the pandemic and we’re getting a lot of invitations. These trips are very good for our students, because they’re combined with cultural visits, and it’s educational for them.
How is Montserrat viewed in the world of children’s choirs?
In 2020, the BBC’s cultural section had an article that rated us as one of the 10 best choirs in the world. That’s great but we take it with a pinch of salt... One of the values we have is tradition, since the choir started 700 years ago. Our choir is also very committed because we sing so many times that the boys are very united.
Is it difficult to find new members?
There’s been a secularisation of society and many people are simply not aware of us, but there are many people who are, just look at how full the Basilica is every day at noon.