Luca Fiammenghi / Fraternità di CL

The Voice of a History

Pippo Molino, musician and composer, describes in a recent book the place of singing in the movement: “It is born in a living community. It is one with the experience we have. And a choir is pure charity.” From the January issue of Tracce.
Paola Ronconi

One thing is certain: in the movement of CL we sing. At the Spiritual Exercises, during the liturgy, before a meeting. But also on a hike or an evening among friends. It is maybe one of the most characteristic expressions of the movement. “It is a sensibility, an education since the very beginning,” explains Pippo Molino, musician and composer, who since the 80s is responsible for the singing of CL, in particular the choral music. Today, he is helped by Carlo Carabelli, who, beyond a general responsibility for the songs, works with the university students, while Pippo continues to direct the adult choir. Recently, he published Un’altra musica [Another Music] (Volontè&Co), a book in which he recounts the history of singing in CL, its principle dimensions, and proposes examples of the repertoire with sheet music and, through a QR Code, connects you to audio recordings. “If we sing well in CL, it is not first of all the merit of anyone. It is rather a history that began with Father Giussani and continues to live,” he explains. “‘Why so much music in a book?’ they asked me. Give it a listen!” And read what Giussani himself said over the years about music and singing.

Why are people still struck by the songs of the movement? Even within the Church…
They remain struck, period, sometimes just during a hike, that is, not only in church. They are still struck because today, in general, people do not sing together. Once, it was 2004, Father Giussani said to me: “Pippo, people no longer sing!” This was already his worry back then, that people did not sing. At one time this was not the case: for example, people sang while working. In the Church environment, so many recognize that “no one sings like CL sings.” But, I repeat, this is not the merit of anyone.

Why has singing and singing well become such a rare thing?
Certainly singing is one with the experience we have. You hear people sing well in church where there is a living Christian community, or where there are monks and nuns who believe. Where there is faith there is song, a true humanity. And I am talking about popular songs, not so much individual geniuses. Then from a people comes the individual, the soloist. Our most famous singers came out of a people. First Adriana Mascagni, who also directed the choir. Then Claudio Chieffo, with important songs. And so many others.

So it was as a consequence of this that they began to write songs…
Exactly! Once, someone said that singing in the movement was born with its singers. Father Giussani heard these words and corrected: “At the first Mass of GS, the very first one: it was there that the singing in the movement was born…The beginning of the movement’s singing is the beginning of the movement. There is no difference…One belongs and a song springs up.”

What was it like to work with Father Giussani? What did he ask of you?
As a kid, at the Berchet High School, or at the Catholic University, I always saw him close up, and at the same time I was absorbing myself in music. In 1986, almost forty years ago, I decided to take on the responsibility of the choir. And in the meantime, in those years, there was a friendship with Giussani that became freer and freer: with him, freedom counted very much, so much that he never asked me to take on this responsibility. I decided to, very slowly, as a part of my own story. To work with him was above all a great experience of freedom. He said: “It is pure charity. The choir, the singing, is the most useful and gratuitous service for the community. If a community does not have a choir, it means that it does not have passion.” These are observations that, when I read them again, I understand that I have still not reached the point he was calling me to. It is a call even now. And I always ask myself: “How am I doing in this service?”

How are the songs chosen for the important moments of the movement?
Father Giussani always chose the songs, even though we made suggestions, and he would always say that the one who leads the movement decides the songs. And so it was with Father Julián Carrón and now with Davide Prosperi: the one who guides the gesture decides. And rightly so, because singing is something fundamental. Once, we were at the CLU Exercises. There was a new song to learn: Estote fortes in bello. I practiced it. Then I heard Father Giussani come in, and I asked him what he thought about it. “Beautiful, beautiful. If I can say: a little sticky.” So, I understood that there was still some work to do and we did it again. He had such a good ear. I don’t say it to flatter him, but because he had been educated since childhood. In the book, I return to that story where Giussani recalls how his father chose to go to Mass where he knew there would be a choir. To little Luigi, the polyphony seemed to be just a confusion of voices. Until one day he heard Caligaverunt, one of the Tenebrae Responsories for Good Friday by De Victoria: “And from then on,” he says, “I was in love with De Victoria and with all polyphony.” It was life, what happened to him, that made him passionate about this or that. All his observations, if you think about it, were never next to the things that he lived, but within what he lived, and therefore, his words can be a help to us now. Another example: Holy Thursday, 1994, Certosa di Pavia. He arrived at the rehearsal, he looked at us and said: “Serve with feeling, which means, pronounce the words as your own. Even if it is not yet right, you make Him happen again. You must put yourselves into an opaque reality.” It is not a spiritual discourse he is adding on; it is something within the singing. How exciting!

“At the Exercises of the Fraternity, you sing a solo not in front of but on behalf of sixteen thousand people! … You express these sixteen thousand, their awareness, you are the voice of a people, of a destiny,” he said in 1994. How does one learn this?
We learn by identifying ourselves with the experience of the movement: it is true today just as it was true with him. Thank heaven, this sensibility keeps moving forward in us. People come into our choir because of the experience they have. Not simply to sing. Carlo and I always hold auditions. The last time we had auditions, 120 people wanted to join the choir. So it is not a question of “when Giussani was here,” but now! Back in 1994, he said: “If I can give you advice: don’t be too worried about yourselves, about your capacity to express yourselves. The content of your concern cannot be the expression of the self, but the expression of the awareness of this people. For this choir, singing is the most useful and gratuitous service for the community.” There is a way of singing that is different if it is identified in this way with the experience of the movement, we could say, if it is religious. The title of my book, far from being aristocratic, comes from the popular way of speaking, in Milan, “there is another music,” that is, in the singing of the movement, there is something more, that is not our merit.

In the book, you speak about an “expressive modality” and list a series of practical indications. How were they born?
With use, gradually. When I was a young kid at Berchet, we said Morning Prayer but without singing with a straight tone, on one note. Little by little, over time, with the Memores Domini, Giussani saw that singing with a straight tone, something taken from Gregorian chant, helped us to be more orderly. And the difficulty in holding the note underlines the vigilance that we need to have while praying. When we say that it is an experience, you see it also in this, in the fact that over time these things have happened.

So the recitation of the Liturgy of the Hours is singing?
There is not a line of demarcation between what is and is not singing. For example, the Psalms of Gelinau, which Giussani really liked, are put to a music that recalls this singing on one note. They are very enunciated.

Another chapter: the variety of our songs. How do all these genres get put together?
The variety comes from life and from the gradualness of a history. Giussani began with Vero amor è Gesù, with O cor soave (which is a popular song he learned in the seminary). They are both songs that can be sung together or simply listened to. He began with these, then he took the scout songs, like La traccia or Inno alle scolte: the entirety of medieval man who prayed for the salvation of the city and of his soul. He followed what was happening: a life.

Then the singers came…
There was Mascagni and Chieffo, then people like Roscio, Valmaggi, until we arrived at Riro Maniscalco and Father Anastasio (whom I did not get to consider in the book). And then Gregorian chant. All the Popes speak about this form of singing, saying that it is the song of the Church. But who sings Gregorian chant today? Or popular Russian songs, like The Bell? The majority of these choices come from the passions of Giussani. And then from encounters with different people: for the Neapolitan songs it happened like this.

In CL there are moments that are more structured, but singing together on vacation is also important…
Sure. It is important that normal life has its songs. It is an invaluable way to be together. To listen to each other. It is an education. You come to learn that in Taiwan, in a world that is totally different from ours, they sing our songs. Or the Africans who a few years ago sang Alpine songs at the Rimini Meeting: they sang them well. You understood that their voice was different, but they were identifying with the music. Marvelous!

Let’s return to the question from before: what unites all these songs?
The merit is in not detaching ourselves from Father Giussani’s method. When we look for songs, when we ask our singers to propose songs, it is an enormous work. For example, Lucio Dalla has a notable depth, but it is very difficult to sing his songs together, it is not easy to pull it off.

We hear a soloist, a choir, and we desire to sing. Is this passion contagious?
Absolutely. And it educates. How many times did Giussani tell us that we understand much more from singing than from all the many arguments. The singing in our meetings has the same importance as the word of the one who speaks, and often it is understood even before the concept that the speaker wants to communicate.

Saint Augustine, who you quote in the book, said that “the one who sings prays twice.”
Singing done well generates silence. In the Church it is like this. He, Augustine, lived this. And we too live this grace.