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FEATURES | carlow choir

Singing for the Lord


  • V John DeChiaro. She had no idea the concert


Vicki Priebe was just looking for a relaxing

evening when she decided to attend a 2007

concert in Hattiesburg by classical guitarist

would change her life.

After his performance, DeChiaro brought

out members of the Carlow Choir, a nonde- nominational ensemble he had founded in 2005, shortly after Hurricane Katrina, to bring hope to residents of storm-ravaged South Mississippi and Louisiana. “He was recruiting,” Priebe said. Touched by their brief performance, she decided to join. “It gave me a new direction in my life,” Priebe said. “My husband had passed away a few years earlier.” The choir has accomplished a great deal in the four short years since its founding. Last October, the choir traveled to Italy to per- form for Pope Benedict XIV at the Vatican. In September it recorded a concert for Mississippi Public Broadcasting in Jackson, and there will be a concert at Carnegie Hall in 2011. In November, the choir taped a con-

cert for EWTN, the Catholic television chan- nel. “It was a very rigorous process we had to go through to get this,” DeChiaro said. “I’ve been trying for two years to get this. This will give us international exposure because EWTN airs around the world.” DeChiaro, a retired professor at the University of Southern Mississippi, named the choir after the seminary in Ireland where many of South Mississippi’s priests were edu- cated, so members are especially excited about headlining a choir festival next October at Carlow College. They will also perform at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. The tour came about after two women wearing Carlow Choir T-shirts were stopped in Assisi, Italy, on their 2008 tour, by a man who was from Carlow, Ireland. One thing led to another, and they were eventually invited to perform at the college. A CD, “Reflections for the Heart: Sacred Anthems for Choir,” was released this autumn by Centaur Records. It was recorded in August 2008 at Southwest Mississippi Community

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College in Summit. “The music on this disk is sacred anthems,” DeChiaro said. “It’s what I call the best of the Bible. There are verses of the Bible that people set to music, such as the 23rd Psalm. The song ‘Weep, Mother Mary,’ describes what she must have felt when she saw Jesus dying on the cross. We sang these songs on our tour of Italy.” The approximately 150- member choir is divided into two groups, one that is based in Hattiesburg and one that is based in Alexandria, La., where DeChiaro is currently employed as director of the string music program for the Alexandria public school sys- tem. He makes the four-hour drive from Alexandria to Hattiesburg each week to work with the Hattiesburg choir. The members are equally as dedicated. Some drive to Hattiesburg from as far away

as McComb, the Mississippi Gulf Coast and New Orleans each Monday night for rehears- al at River of Life Church on U.S. 98 West. “We love it, we love John,” said Mary Ellen Lestrade, who drives up from Escatawpa with her husband, Oscar. “We first started singing with John about 10 years ago (when he was choir director) at another church on the Coast. It means too much to us, we missed it. Around Christmas time, we came back.” Alan B utner joined the tenor section a few months ago. “One of the ladies recruited me,” he said. “I thought I could sing for the Lord.” DeChiaro said part of the reason for the choir’s success is that it “becomes the voice of God” during performances. “Whenever we give con- certs, people are always crying because the music touches

them,” he said. DeChiaro, who had per- formed on guitar for Pope John Paul II twice at the Vatican, said he decided to submit a demo tape of the choir to the Vatican on a whim. After a lengthy acceptance process, Carlow Choir was invited to perform for Benedict XIV. There’s a big difference between performing a solo gui- tar concert for the pope and conducting a large choir, DeChiaro said. “When you’re doing it by yourself, you just have to worry about you, not 140 peo- ple,” he said. Priebe said God has His hand on the Carlow Choir and is blessing it. “It’s just wonderful to see how God has brought people together from all denomina- tions,” Priebe said. “When we sing, we’re singing from our hearts and our experience.”

College in Summit. “The music on this disk is sacred anthems,” DeChiaro said. “It’s what I


Rehearsals are held at 7 p.m. Monday at River of Life Church on U.S. 98 West. Anyone interested in joining Carlow Choir can attend.

For more information, go to

The CD is $15 and is available at Doherty’s Furniture, Lil Butcher Shoppe, Lovie’s and Westgate Cleaners, and from and iTunes.

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