Christian Landry is in the seventh grade at St. Paul’s Choir School in Boston and one of the beautiful voices on the choir’s musical collection Christmas in Harvard Square, which has been high on the Billboard charts since its release earlier this fall. He also happens to be a fellow pilgrim from a Holy Land trip lead by his uncle, a priest in the diocese of Fall River, Mass. So — along with an interview with his choir director, John Robinson, earlier this week — I couldn’t resist the opportunity to ask Christian for some of his reflections on the music and the experience of being in the only boys’ choir school in the U.S. and being on the Billboard charts and “in demand” this fall (see them on Good Morning America on Christmas Eve, for instance).
KJL: What is it like being a part of a music project that’s making headlines and the Billboard classical-music chart?
Christian Landry: It has been absolutely awesome — just to know that we’re on the Billboard charts and we’re being recognized for all the hard work we’ve done. It’s an honor and an achievement.
KJL: What’s special about Christmas in Harvard Square?
CHRISTIAN: First of all, it is special to all of us because we sang it! The CD has a lot of diversity in the 19 selections by Mr. Robinson, from well-known songs such as “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and “O Come All Ye Faithful” to lesser-known but beautiful songs like “Jesus Christ the Apple Tree” or The Little Road to Bethlehem.
KJL: Do you listen to it and hear something beautiful? How have you come to understand beauty and why it might be important in life?
CHRISTIAN: Yes, all of us hear the beauty of the 19 songs on the CD. We are taught to sing beautiful music every day — some of the most beautiful songs in Church history. The selections on the CD, Christmas in Harvard Square, are just a small taste of the beautiful music we sing for all the Masses at St. Paul’s Church.
I’ve come to understand beauty in a number of different ways. We see beauty in many different styles of music. For example, we sing an extremely slow song called O Sacrum Convivium by Messaen. The slow pace of the song allows us to appreciate the depth and beauty of the chords. Another song, like Rejoice in the Lord Always by Purcell, is an extremely fast and upbeat type of music. Its beauty is noticeable in all of its ornaments, trills and the carefulness he takes in putting notes that work well in an upbeat song, creating excitement for us as singers and I’m sure for everyone listening too.
KJL: What’s life like at a boys’ choir school? Do you feel grateful for the opportunity, given it’s the only such school in the country?
CHRISTIAN: We rehearse every day except for Monday and we have the opportunity to sing at Mass each day. Because we also have a full academic schedule, we have a longer school day than most other schools and we also often have evening or weekend events. December is a particularly busy time of year because we have many concerts to perform in addition to our normal routine.
I recognize that most boys my age across the United States don’t have the opportunities I do for this type of education in music, academics, and the Catholic faith that we have at Saint Paul’s. On a daily basis, we probably don’t appreciate it as much as we should, since we are just trying to keep up with the busy schedule. We hope that as more people hear about our type of school, particularly because of the Christmas CD, that they may want to start Catholic boys choir schools in other parts of the country.
KJL: I’ve heard you talk about the “work ethic” the choir has taught you. Why is that important to you?
CHRISTIAN: It will help us a lot later in life when we have a job and we have something very important to get done. The Choir School experience teaches us that we have to prepare well, perform well, and work through tough and busy times. No one will get it done for us. We have to get the work done ourselves. Our teachers tell us that we work as hard as many high schools and I’m sure that will help me as I move on to high school in a year and a half.
KJL: Is there any choir performance or experience or trip that you’ve enjoyed that most? Why? (I’m guessing St. Peter’s in Rome ranks high on the list?)
CHRISTIAN: We loved our Rome trip, particularly the honor of performing in front of Pope Francis and in many famous and beautiful churches. We also loved the opportunity we were given to travel to Assisi and learn about Saint Francis.
I think we all liked the New York trip we took recently to do several media interviews and performances to let people know about the CD. Not many boys our age have the opportunity to go on Good Morning America or Fox and Friends. It was a lot of fun for all of us.
KJL: What have you learned about music since starting at St. Paul’s? Do you enjoy music? Do you enjoy singing?
CHRISTIAN: When I chose to attend Saint Paul’s, to be honest, I didn’t like music too much. I chose to go there more for the academics and because it was a good Catholic school. After about a month of getting to know Mr. Robinson, I began to appreciate the meaning and the stories behind the music we get to sing. I grew to love the music and enjoy singing more and more each day. I expect to be singing for the rest of my life.
KJL: What are you typically thinking about when you sing hymns of Christ’s birth, especially at this time of year?
CHRISTIAN: I try to picture the Nativity scene and what each hymn describes. Knowing that Christmas is right around the corner, it is even more exciting to sing these hymns about Christ’s birth.
KJL: You’ve been to Bethlehem. Has that changed your perspective on Christmas? Has it had an impact on your faith?
CHRISTIAN: Going to Bethlehem has definitely changed my perspective, because I know how the town looks. I’m able to picture the exact setting of the Nativity. Traveling there in some ways is like going from a fuzzy TV picture to HD or going from AM radio to FM radio. I’m the only one in my school that has ever been to Bethlehem so I try to share my experiences with the other boys.
KJL: Do you think about being there at all when you sing about Bethlehem?
CHRISTIAN: Definitely. Whenever I hear a reading in Church or see the lyrics of a song that focuses on Jesus’ life, it takes me back to the 2012 trip to the Holy Land.
KJL: Is your Christian faith — reflected in your very name! — important to you? Has this music on Christmas on Harvard Square impacted your faith at all?
CHRISTIAN: My parents and I chose St. Paul’s because it was an excellent Catholic school. I’ve learned so much more about the Catholic faith from our religion teachers. Every song we’ve sung at the school, including all the selections on Christmas in Harvard Square, has given me a different perspective about God.
KJL: What do you hope your future holds? What subjects interest you the most? Do you think this choir success will play a role in whatever you do, one way or another?
Christian: I am excited about my future after Saint Paul’s. I hope I’m able to pass on what I’ve learned here to others, including my younger brother, Dominic, who expects to start next year at Saint Paul’s.
Beyond music, I really like my Science, History, Math and English classes. I like them all and really don’t have a favorite.
I’ve learned so much at the Choir School beyond the things that get tested. We have learned to sing well as a choir, which is like playing well as a team in sports. We have learned that we can sing some of the most difficult pieces ever written for Catholic liturgy despite our young age. I’ve also learned to appreciate the beauty of various parts of the Mass and I’m sure that will continue to impact my life very much.