Composing for the Pope

Robert Hobby shares details about his experience composing and performing music for Pope Francis' visit to the United States.
Feb 1, 2016
Composing for the Pope

Robert Hobby, director of music at Trinity English Lutheran Church, was invited to compose two musical arrangements for Pope Francis’ visit to the United States. In 2015, his pieces were performed at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on September 24 and at Madison Square Garden on September 25. Hobby shared the details of his experience composing and performing for the pope with FWL.

How did you get the opportunity to compose music for the pope?

In the early planning stages for the papal visit to New York, the director of music at St. Patrick’s Cathedral contacted the president of MorningStar Music Publishers in St. Louis to inquire about specific musical settings for inclusion at the services during Pope Francis’ visit. 

Among the director’s requests was an orchestrated version of an existing choral piece by French composer Charles-Marie Widor to be used at the St. Patrick’s Cathedral evening prayer service. The other request was for an orchestrated setting of the hymn “Alleluia! Sing to Jesus” to be sung by the 20,000 plus people attending mass at Madison Square Garden the following day. Neither of these requests were in the publisher’s catalog, but MorningStar offered to contact composers who had previous experience working with choirs and orchestra. 

As an active, published composer with two large-scale choral/orchestral works and a number of smaller choral/instrumental pieces, I had the good fortune of being one of the initial contacts, which occurred late last May. Of course, I was honored by the invitation and immediately agreed to compose both settings.

Were you involved in the rehearsals and performances at all? 

Due to high demand for space and tight security, I initially didn’t think it would be possible to attend either service. By mid-summer, however, the cathedral director invited me to be an “observer” in the choir gallery for the St. Patrick’s service and a singer with the mass choir at Madison Square Garden. 

It was a surreal experience to attend the cathedral service where my orchestration of Widor’s “Tu es Petrus” served as one of two pieces for Pope Francis’ arrival. It was equally moving the next evening to hear 20,000 people singing the arrangement of “Alleluia! Sing to Jesus” as I stood in the choir approximately 25 feet away from the pope!

What has this opportunity meant for you?

It was a great honor to be a part of Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S.; first for the opportunity to compose the music and, second, for the privilege of being invited to witness it in person.  

In addition to savoring those moments in New York, the entire experience also offered me the opportunity to reflect and celebrate all those people in my life—parents, teachers, family members, friends, colleagues and members of Trinity English—who have offered their insight, wisdom and encouragement throughout my life, leading me to this occasion. When pondering the papal experience, coupled with the journey that brought me to this place in time, I realize I am one lucky guy! 


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