Angela Gibilisco, front row at left, poses with choir camp friends during the National Catholic Youth Choir. Courtesy photo
Angela Gibilisco, front row at left, poses with choir camp friends during the National Catholic Youth Choir. Courtesy photo

The National Catholic Youth Choir camp, hosted July 6-14 on the campus of St. John’s University and Abbey in Collegeville, Minn., was the opportunity of a lifetime for Angela Gibilisco, parishioner of St. Catherine Laboure Parish, Middletown.

Gibilisco was one of 60 auditioned choristers from grades 8-12, and was able to attend thanks in part to scholarship funds made available by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., and her parish. Upon returning from camp, Gibilisco provided a reflection on her life-changing experience for The Monitor.

I don’t even know where to begin! The entire National Catholic Youth Choir camp was so amazing …

When I first arrived at the airport, I was picked up by Bernie (a counselor), who drove me and three other choristers back to St. John’s University. We got our music, settled down, met the other choristers as they came in, and rehearsed for three hours straight that evening. Little did I know that would be the least amount of singing we would do for the next 10 days. The next day we sang for Mass and had a total of almost seven hours of singing. A typical day would be seven to nine hours of rehearsing or concerts.

Every morning we had the option of joining the Benedictine Monks for their morning Liturgy of the Hours before heading to breakfast and rehearsal. After rehearsal, we had lunch and about an hour of free time before three to four hours of rehearsing. In the evening, we had around two or three hours of free time for dinner, before another three- to four-hour rehearsal. At 9:30 p.m. sharp, we ended rehearsal and sang Compline [evening prayer] as a group. It was so beautifully put together and is something I continue to sing even after camp. At 10 p.m., we went to our dorms, had a small group session, and went to sleep before 11 p.m. to be sure we had enough energy to wake up early.

The last four days we went sightseeing (Duluth and the Mall of America were just two of many places visited) before our tours. We sang at the Cathedral of Christ the King, the Chapel of Our Lady of Good Counsel, the parish of Our Lady of Grace, and ended with St. John’s Abbey on the final day.

The National Catholic Youth Choir is very faith-oriented, and their music is no less so. We sang all kinds of sacred music, ranging from Gregorian chant to hymns we sing at church. A few of my favorites include “Ubi Caritas” and “His Light in Us.” The latter, while being a more difficult piece because of the intense vocal range of the group, had a beautiful climax and well put together chords. The parishioners’ favorite to watch was “Akekho Ofana,” a South African song performed with drums, percussion, clapping and dancing. With songs as simple as “Quis Tibi Videtur” and hymns like “Holy God We Praise Thy Name,” the camp kept us on our toes, challenging our vocal ability constantly. The choice of music helped me learn to appreciate different styles of singing and performing, and it makes me want to learn more about vocal traditions in other parts of the world, both in the present and past.

While this year the camp had the largest number of kids attending in almost 10 years (there were 35 of us in total), by day three, everyone knew everyone, and by day five, we were crying into different people’s shoulders or laughing about the most random things. Everyone at this camp was here for the same reason – to perform their best while praising God.

I cannot thank Bishop David O’Connell enough for his scholarship, in addition to my own pastor Father Daniel Hesko, and the Rosary Altar Society of St. Catherine Laboure’s Parish for their support of my attendance at this camp. It has truly been an honor and has made memories that will last a lifetime. I can honestly say that NCYC has been spiritually refreshing and has helped me make 34 amazing new friends.

If anyone reading this is in high school, loves God and loves to sing, I truly encourage you to look into the National Catholic Youth Choir. It has shaped my vocal ability in many ways, expanded my social horizons and formed my faith in a special way. May God bless their ministry and all who attend this camp.