“I love making sacred music”

As a pupil he sang with the Domspatzen, from Sunday he will now conduct them: Christian Heib, until now cathedral conductor in Eichstatt, will be the new head of the world-famous boys' choir. He is only the second family man in this position.

Christian Heib calls it "a childhood dream, one that you just have as a 10- or 11-year-old. At the time, he was in the sixth grade at the Regensburger Domspatzen music high school. Georg Ratzinger was at the helm of the world-famous boys' choir, as cathedral conductor. That is exactly what he wanted to become one day, Heib had told him. Now the 52-year-old's childhood dream is coming true. From 1. September he takes over the office; after Roland Buchner he is the second family man at the head of the choir.

"It challenges me and spurs me on," Heib says of his appointment to one of the most important offices in Catholic church music. Among 40 competitors, including women for the first time, Heib prevailed. For the new office he brings not only his own memories with him. After his time as a singer with the Domspatzen, Heib studied church music, earning an A diploma and an organ master class diploma in Munich, including as a student of Franz Lehrndorfer (1928-2013).

From 2002 cathedral conductor in Eichstatt

In 1999, he became the cathedral organist in Eichstatt, and in 2002, the cathedral conductor. He is also active as a composer and, among other things, set Benedict XVI's first chant to music. The work was an official gift from the German Bishops' Conference to the pope on his visit to Germany in September 2011.

It is hard for him to say goodbye to Eichstatt, to the choirs he has grown fond of. He expanded the range of church music there. He says that "a lot of energy and brainpower" went into building up the children's and youth groups as well as the Gregorian chant. He is now leaving all that behind. "I will miss standing at the lectern in the cathedral every Sunday," says Heib.

Return to the Domspatzen

With the Domspatzen, he is not only responsible for the musical arrangement of the liturgy in the cathedral, but is also on tour in concert. It is a great gift to return to the place that has decisively shaped him as a person and musician. Now he can give something back: "I love making sacred music. I love to be in the liturgy."

He had already absorbed church music "virtually with his mother's milk," Heib says. His father led the church choir and played the organ as a sideline. "I could hardly walk before I was already sitting on the organ stand."His parents would also have noticed his good voice. So where to go after elementary school? As a boy, he attended concerts of the Windsbacher Knabenchor and the Domspatzen. The catholic boys choir it has then finally become.

Coming to terms with the abuse cases at the Domspatzen was important

Heib was in the music high school and the boarding school of the Domspatzen from 1977 to 1986. At that time, he himself had not experienced or witnessed any sexual assaults. At a class reunion a few years ago, this was also confirmed by classmates in his year group. In addition, he did not attend the preschool of the Domspatzen, where most of the deeds happened.

Heib emphasizes that he does not want to minimize the incidents – quite the contrary. Even if now with the historical and the criminological study the reappraisal and clearing up is to a large extent locked, the topic remains present. "For me it is absolutely clear that this time and the deeds belong to the history of the Domspatzen."He has the duty to cultivate openness and transparency in the house. Without the reappraisal, it would have been more than questionable for him to apply for the leadership of the Domspatzen.

Heib has no problems with the imprinting of the Domspatzen as an a cappella choir. The view of the work of the cathedral conductor is more intensive in Regensburg than in Eichstatt. "Whether that can be a burden, I have to find out for myself."In his private life, the change means a lot of commuting for Heib for the time being. He will move into a small apartment in Regensburg, his family will stay in Eichstatt for the time being. His son has already graduated from high school, his two daughters are still at school. "You leave a lot behind," says Heib. "But close friendships survive that."

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Christina Cherry
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