Whether it is exploring the splendor of a 13th century cathedral or one of the seven wonders of the world, many will agree that with these moments come a profound sense of God’s Presence. This same experience is one I came to know through a Catholic men’s schola called Floriani.
After hearing much praise about the Floriani choir, I ventured out to Thomas Aquinas College (TAC) in Santa Paula, California to hear for myself the voices behind the choir. I had the pleasure of sitting with Giorgio Navarini (’15), Graham Crawley (’20) and Nico Silva (’20), three of the sixteen members of the Floriani men’s schola, to discuss their beginnings, mission, charism and future endeavors.
How did the Floriani come to be?
The Floriani men’s schola has a very unique beginning. Floriani was established in 2013 by Giorgio Navarini, an alumnus of TAC. After experiencing Gregorian chant at the age of 18, Navarini felt a call from God to devote his life to restoring that same sacred music to all parts of the United States and beyond. This mission, therefore, urged him to have others join his burning desire to “beautify the Church with holy sound.”
With this in mind, Navarini’s mission began. He started his choir with six members of his barbershop club in TAC. The men took their newly developed talent to the streets, performing in Santa Paula, Santa Barbara and other parts of California. Not long after, the Catholic men’s barbershop choir gained interest and became a schola with over sixteen members under the name of Floriani – a name which has a fascinating story behind it.
A near-death experience
While swimming in Nevada’s treacherous Yuba river at the age of twenty-four, Navarini nearly drowned after being pulled to the bottom of the river. “I was looking at the surface and started to swim up, but my body wasn’t moving, so I started swimming faster. I felt my body being pulled to the bottom … at this point my body went into panic mode.” Navarini felt certain that death at the bottom of the river was inevitable. After what seemed like a long time, the water pulled him to the surface, but he was unable to swim to safety amid the rocks and raging rapids.
He began to lose hope, but Divine Providence intervened as Navarini sighted a father and son walking along the river.
“I see a father and son start running down the riverbank. They began yelling, ‘swim to us, swim to us!’ Immediately I start swimming as fast as I could towards them against the rapids, and somehow I made it out. I got on my knees and just thanked God… and then I had a really strong impulse to thank Saint Florian.” Saint Florian was Navarini’s confirmation Saint, but until that point, he had never had a particular devotion to him. This moment changed everything, and soon after the event he discovered that Saint Florian was known as the patron Saint of drowning victims. This near death experience confirmed that Saint Florian would be the ideal patron for his choir and mission. Floriani was born and the mission set.
Mission and Response to Beauty
The Floriani’s mission is found in striving “To beautify the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass with holy sound; to educate the next generation of Catholic musicians; to evangelize the world through the beautiful and ancient treasury of Sacred Music.”
Graham Crawley, a junior at TAC, says his experience as a member of Floriani has had a lasting and growing effect on his Faith. He joined Floriani without any religious expectations, and yet, through the enduring beauty of sacred music, he found himself more deeply connected to God and the Church. Crawley states,“[Sacred music] should be a reflection of what is happening during Mass, it should elevate us in our experience at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.”
Sacred music has changed Crawley’s outlook on Faith and life. It has brought new meaning to the beauty of the Mass. This beauty is that which Floriani strives to project. They are truly living out their calling to “ beautify the church”, through their voices, in today’s culture.
As Crawley mentions “Though our culture may reject truth, it still responds to beauty.”
Another member of Floriani had a similar experience with the transcendent and captivating sound of the schola. Nico Silva, another junior at TAC, was first introduced to Floriani at a Sunday morning Mass that usually omits music. Floriani happened to be singing that Mass. It was through hearing Navarini’s Serran Mass composition that Silva was brought to a moment of transformation. He said that “Hearing them sing just transformed the Mass into a Sacred experience … it made me realize that Sacred music does make a difference.” Not long after his experience, Silva joined Floriani. After being a member for some time, he realized that, “The music that we are singing has the liturgy in mind in a more visceral way. We’re not just singing lyrics and themes that happen to be coinciding with the readings.” His love for Floriani’s mission and sacred music has lead him to be a leading promoter of the mission – a mission which Silva considers an apostolate. “For me, Floriani is not a choir anymore, it’s an apostolate.”
The Floriani’s mission to beautify the Church also carries with it a unique charism that permeates the group. Floriani seeks to live out their mission not only in the choir but also in their daily lives. The balance of brotherhood, genuine joy, and camaraderie strengthens their friendship with each other in the Faith. They are true men with a passion for Sacred music, brotherhood, and authentically living out the Catholic Faith in the world. They are essentially a family. The men of Floriani do not limit their interactions to choir practice and concerts – instead, they connect with each other in a true spirit of fraternity. Crawley explains that “The world is starved of true culture, of the real display of conviction and faith … the most effective way to bring people to the banquet is to live it. In this age, people are so afraid of their desire for truth that they either mock their own inclination to feel something real, or they numb themselves with any number of the modern ‘medications’ at their disposal. The Catholic Church is so beautiful. We have a unique opportunity to live out the counter-culture of truth and love, and the best way we can do this is to simply be Catholic, wherever we are.”
Putting their charism and mission to work, Floriani has not limited themselves to just singing at Masses or offering concerts for the public and faithful. They have taken their mission a step further, and have answered the call to the New Evangelization. Their voices have traveled to the streets of California, as well as parishes in several States, including Montana and Kansas. Floriani’s most impactful experience rested with a pilgrimage to Rome. There they sang at a Pontifical High Mass celebrated by His Eminence Cardinal Burke, at the Seat of St. Peter for a Vatican’s noon Mass and impromptu singing in the Pantheon and other Churches in Rome. Floriani’s sacred music has a transcendent power that moves one to a closer connection with Christ. Their mission drives them to continue to strive to reach as many places as will welcome them in order to restore the treasures of sacred music. As Crawley says “The sacred music of our rich, Catholic tradition has the power to reach both Christians and seculars alike, and to stir in them that part of the soul that longs to commune with its Creator, that cannot ignore its desire for the beautiful.”
Join the Mission
The Floriani men’s schola consider themselves a traveling choir, as they are independent of any parish. Navarini states, “We share our music and talent wherever we are invited, whether that’s singing for parishes in both the Extraordinary and Ordinary Form, leading choral workshops for congregations, giving conferences and parish missions on the history and nature of Sacred music, and even giving concerts displaying the diversity of Sacred music.” Floriani’s ultimate goal is to “continue this living tradition, to spread it and teach it, and to reach as many people as we can through its captivating power.”
The voices provided through Floriani’s members has the power to restore beauty to the Church. Therefore, the future of the schola lies in the knowledge and evangelization of their mission. Without sacred music, the Church begins to lose the beauty that enhances her innate splendor as the living body and bride of Christ.
I invite you to join Floriani’s mission “to beautify the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass with holy sound; to educate the next generation of Catholic musicians; to evangelize the world through the beautiful and ancient treasury of Sacred Music.”
Invite Floriani to your parish, support them by becoming a sponsor, and most importantly, offer your prayers for their continued success. It is up to all of us to do our part to make the Church’s traditions sacred once again.
See the latest from Floriani:
Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCE3g_TBM-jzRz2wDwNw93TQ ( Floriani Sacred Music)
Purchase Floriani Album: https://www.floriani.org/music