Last week, Jeff Pottinger and his band of 40-some Saint Louis University High School students were enjoying a trip they knew they’d remember for years to come when it suddenly became exponentially more unforgettable.
They were partway through a musical performance just outside St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican when Pope Francis himself approached the group, listened to them play, then talked with them and even took a few selfies with the teens.
“Magical” is one word that Pottinger used to sum up the experience while discussing it on Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air with host Don Marsh.
Two SLUH students – alto saxophonist Emanuel Parker and flutist Bryce Van Bree – also joined the conversation after returning home from their travels. Van Bree, a sophomore, recalled what it was like to continue playing his solo during the song “O Sacred Head Now Wounded” as the most powerful person in the Roman Catholic Church came into view.
“At that point the pope began walking down the steps, and if I remember correctly the popemobile had just pulled up in front of us, and my nervousness began mounting,” Van Bree said. “And it was interesting, because the second the pope walked over, my nervousness kind of just vanished. It was weird. And for the rest of the piece it continued like that. The pope just kind of took my nervousness away somehow.”
Parker said he too was able to continue playing his part of the Bach piece as the pope stood in front of them, though he and his bandmates admit it probably wasn’t their most focused performance.
“At that point it didn’t really matter so much, the little technical details in our playing,” said Parker, a senior at SLUH. “It was more about just really being musicians and doing the best that we could.”
Along with the chance to perform for the pontiff, Pottinger said he was blown away by the personable interactions that followed the music.
“You could feel the Holy Spirit in the moment, and the place was abuzz,” he said. “And his time with the boys was just wonderful. I’d love to take some time this week and write him a letter and let him know what he’s done for us in doing so.”
Pottinger said that the pope complimented the boys on their performance and also asked about the school, which is currently celebrating its bicentennial.
St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.