Liverpool High School students perform Czech Christmas Mass at Cathedral

Claudia christmas story DSC3176By Claudia Mathis
     Staff writer    

   Adi Muhovic, a 17-year-old foreign exchange student from Prague, Czech Republic, brought a bit of Czech culture to Syracuse on Sunday, Dec. 16. He, along with the Liverpool High School Student Symphony and Chamber Choir, presented the spectacular Czech Christmas Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.   

   “Part of the foreign exchange program is sharing traditions,” Adi said. “And, one of the biggest traditions in the Czech countries is the Christmas Mass.”

   Czech composer Jakub Jan Ryba wrote the Christmas Mass in 1796, framed on the traditional Latin Mass. The story is based on the story of the birth of Jesus with an emphasis on a Czech description of the wooden nativity scene called Mohelnice Bethlehem. The piece has become the most well-liked Christmas Mass in the Czech countries and is a classic that is frequently played throughout Europe.  

   The difference between the traditional Mass and the Czech Mass is that each of the nine sections of the Czech Mass tells a story. It begins with the birth of Jesus and ends with a joyous celebration. The sections are entitled Kyrie, Gloria, Graduale, Credo, Offertorium, Sanctus, Benedictus, Agnus Dei and Communio.

   Adi, a student at Liverpool High School, began organizing the production by recruiting musicians from the school in early October after proposing the idea to Tim Davenport, Director of Music and Organist at the Cathedral. Davenport remembered that when he listened to the Mass, he instantly liked it. `


   “I especially liked that there was a story theme based on the Nativity, unlike the traditional Mass compositions we are familiar with,” Davenport said. “I have always been a strong advocate for music education and encouraging and promoting students to share their talents, especially in church and music ministry. The fact that he wanted to share this unheard and pretty obscure work with the Cathedral and Syracuse moved me.”

   Davenport was impressed by Adi’s determination and the hours he spent organizing and rehearsing the Mass. “I certainly thought that this was a huge undertaking for anyone to take on in such a short period of time, especially a young student to take on solo,” Davenport said. “I always have faith and gave Adi my blessing and offered any help I could give to him.”

   Adi enlisted 15 Liverpool High School students to play in the orchestra and 12 to sing in the choir. He also recruited two students from Syracuse University to join the choir.

   Adi was excited about offering a concert to the community in which the performers represented many different cultures.

   Adi is Muslim and is impressed by the enduring quality of Catholicism. “It’s a well-established religion with established traditions,” he commented.

   Davenport remembered Adi’s reaction when he first visited the Cathedral. “I could see the true and deep respect he showed for such a beautiful space and the reverence he had for the Catholic faith and our traditions,” said Davenport.

   Ladina Schneider, an exchange student from Switzerland, played the flute at the concert. “I love everything that has to do with music — that’s why I said ‘yes,’” said Ladina. “It is also a wonderful piece to play and I’m happy that I decided to join in. I had the honor to play with some really talented people. It was a unique opportunity for me and I am really glad that I had the chance to participate in this concert.”

   Aidan Russo played the trumpet at the concert. “I wanted to participate because Adi was very excited about this concert and I am his host brother, so I was glad to take the opportunity to play great music and help out my brother,” said Aidan. “I’ve learned that there are a lot more people that just want to be able to do something for the community than do something for their own benefit, and we came together to do this for everyone.”

   Sky Harris, a music teacher in the Liverpool School district, conducted the music for the Mass and served as an advisor for the project.    

   An accomplished pianist, Adi played the organ at the special Mass. “Adi is an amazing pianist and musician,” enthused Davenport. Adi began playing the piano at the age of three and studied performance on piano and music theory when he was five years old.

   The son of Bosnian parents who fled the conflict in Bosnia to live in the Czech Republic, Adi is spending his exchange year in Liverpool. Since his arrival, he has played the piano and saxophone for several of Liverpool High School’s bands and will also play his instruments at the school’s upcoming musical play.

   Adi said that he finds playing the piano very therapeutic. “At the end of a tough day, it feels like a friend to me,” he said.

   The weeks of intense practice were evident in the presentation of the Mass. “We tried our hardest,” said Adi. “It’s a 40-minute long piece and very demanding, especially for the choir because it’s written in Czech. We were excited about performing it. I was happy that I could do it here — it was a lot of fun to put together.” 

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