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The pipes were calling: Organist leaves Rome for Cathedral of the Madeleine

Published: Friday, May 2 2014 8:06 p.m. MDT

Gabriel Terrone left his post as titular organist in Rome to be the organist for the Cathedral of the Madeleine and its Choir School Tuesday, April 29, 2014, in Salt Lake City.

Hugh Carey, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — In the courtyard of the Cathedral of the Madeleine, girls' voices can be heard floating up from the church's rehearsal room.

Inside, Gabriele Terrone accompanies the St. Cecilia Choristers, taking soloists out to work with them one on one to help each with their part.

Minutes earlier, Terrone sat in a purple tie and black suit at the Eccles Memorial Organ in the cathedral as he played intense selections in a dissonant minor key.

"The organ (at the cathedral) is fantastic," he said, before admitting, "I'm still a bit scared of it."

Terrone, 32, was the head organist at the Papal Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, one of the four major papal basilicas, before beginning his position as head organist at the Cathedral of the Madeleine and assistant director of music at the Madeleine Choir School.

He played a few times for Popes Francis, Benedict XVI and the recently canonized St. John Paul II when they visited the Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore, but he sees little difference between Mass celebrations.

"You need always to be focused not only when there is the pope, because you are playing for a congregation. You are playing for the church," he said, noting that the main difference when the Pope is visiting is "there are a lot of eyes focused on you."

The musician brought experience, perspective and energy from Rome to the Cathedral of the Madeleine and the Madeleine Choir School, according to Melanie Malinka, director of music at the school.

"He's very energetic and very excited about the position," she said.

Terrone arrived in Utah just last month, two days before the start of Holy Week, "perhaps the most complicated week of the entire year, musically," according to Gregory Glenn, director of liturgy and music at the Cathedral of the Madeleine. Glenn laughingly called the timing ridiculous, noting that Terrone had to perform "an amazing amount of music" between Palm Sunday and Easter. Terrone said about 10 percent of the pieces he played that week were the "most demanding" he has come across.

"I was worried because the work (the choir does) is perfect, so I didn't want to make mistakes and to waste their work. I was seriously worried, but I think everything went well," Terrone said.

Glenn was less sparing with his praise, saying the new organist was "unabashed by the complexity of the Holy Week services."

Terrone began playing the organ at age 14.

"I was just fascinated by this incredible machine," and amazed by how one instrument and one person could produce such a variety of sounds, he said.

He studied both music and mathematics, earning a Ph.D. in math and working in the field before deciding to pursue a career in music.

"At a certain point, I figured out that this was my way," he said.

Because organ music tends toward the sacred, Terrone knew he was making a decision to pursue a spiritual life.

Terrone began looking for a permanent appointment while serving as head organist at the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, because, in Italy, "unfortunately, positions for church musicians are not solid."

Around the same time, the Cathedral of the Madeleine began its search for a new organist who could help uphold the history of worship in the Catholic Church.

"Finding someone of great skill in performing was a great priority in our church," Glenn said.

Terrone found the dual appointment at the Madeleine and applied.

"I knew that this was maybe the most important place for sacred music in the United States because of the presence of the choir school, which is very prestigious and world-renowned," he said.

Terrone met with Glenn, who was impressed by his commitment to musical service and his interest in reaching out to and working with other faith communities.

"He's a person who's clearly … clearly dedicated to offering his talents as a musician in service to the life of prayer at the cathedral," Glenn said, adding he is "eminently qualified" for the position.

Terrone humbly admitted that he has a lot to learn.

"I believe that this is a great opportunity for me to grow because there are many aspects of sacred music that I didn't have the opportunity to develop so far," he said.

One of these opportunities is in working with the children in the choir school. "It's amazing. It's fantastic because they respond so immediately," he said.

With the new job as head organist comes the process of becoming familiar with the cathedral's organ. Each instrument is different and requires an adjustment period, he said, which is what he is working toward.

"This organ will be my instrument for this appointment, so I need to get confident with it. I need to become a friend of it," he said. He logs hours in daily practice, getting in a few hours before rehearsals and again before Mass.

"Every day there is a different piece to study for the choir," he said.

Email: wevans@deseretnews.com, Twitter: whitevs7

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