Basilica choirs perform sacred music across the country
The Notre Dame basilica choirs brought their gift of song to audiences throughout the United States this Christmas break. The Folk Choir, which sings the basilica’s noon Mass on Sundays, toured the Midwest while the Liturgical Choir, the basilica’s choir for 10 a.m. Sunday Mass and feast days, traveled to the Southeast. The Magnificat Women’s Choir, which sings Saturday Vigil Masses, also toured the American Southwest over break.
The Notre Dame Liturgical Choir’s Southeast tour—the group’s first domestic tour since the outbreak of COVID—included stops at churches throughout Georgia, Florida, and the Carolinas.
The choir faced early uncertainty in the tour’s planning stages as the trip’s projected group marked one of the smallest in Liturgical Choir history. However, the zeal of the travelers, combined with a setlist crafted around the group’s particular strengths, propelled the tour into execution.
Despite the added challenge of numerous weather delays throughout the trip, the choir managed to complete all of its planned performances, which included Catholic and non-Catholic venues alike. The departure from Catholic settings was met with some level of reluctance by the choir, with one singer feeling “slightly disturbed by the Protestant services’ imitations of the Catholic liturgy.” Tour Director and junior Steven Conaway added that the unfamiliar environments were “definitely a change,” but many nevertheless felt the choice was a positive one.
“It was interesting learning about other traditions such as Anglican Choral Evensong,” Conaway remarked. Sophomore Catherine O’Donnell even regarded the choir’s performance at the First Presbyterian Church of New Bern, North Carolina as her favorite of the tour, noting the “smaller, carpeted space” allowed for a more “intimate” concert and an audience “really engaged in the music.”
The tour’s setlist included a diverse assortment of pieces, encompassing a variety of languages and musical traditions. Accordingly, choir members’ favorite tour pieces were equally diverse. Senior Keo Pangan, for instance, favored Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Bogoroditse Devo”—a Russian translation of the Hail Mary—for its particularly intense focal point. Pangan told the Rover, “The sound hits its climax and is released at the moment where the text reads, ‘for Thou hast borne the Savior of our souls.’” Pangan interprets this moment as one that “points to the power and sheer force that spiritually hit the world and changed it forever” in the Incarnation.
Conversely, first-year law student Michael Love resonated with Herbert Howells’ collection of evening canticles titled “Collegium Regale,” calling the words and arrangement of the collection “extremely powerful.” Love particularly enjoyed Howells’ rendition of the Glory Be. “Though obviously a familiar prayer,” Love said, “[the Glory Be] is a radical and timeless encapsulation of the Christian faith, and Howell’s arrangement captures the grandeur communicated by the simple statement.”
Unlike its international tour in Spring 2023, the choir’s domestic tour included numerous homestays with local Notre Dame alumni and church volunteers. Although a new experience for many, the group overwhelmingly reveled in the opportunity to interact with their host families. “I am so grateful for the families who let us stay with them during the tour,” O’Donnell gushed. “The families we stayed with were so generous and accommodating, and it was cool to see how much they still support Notre Dame groups, no matter the year they were students.” Conaway further emphasized his appreciation for the hosts’ “hospitality and kindness” towards the choir.
In the absence of tours during and in the aftermath of COVID-19, the choir received a renewed perspective on the importance of touring—both for, as Conaway asserts, fostering choir “camaraderie” and “fulfill[ing the choir’s] mission of sharing sacred music with many others.” Pangan highlights the tour’s impact both on the choir’s social and spiritual lives, emphasizing the trip as a “golden opportunity to build community with each other so that our ministries may bless our lives, not only spiritually, but also relationally and socially.”
Regardless of the group’s size or setbacks, the choir returned to campus feeling largely successful in its endeavor to bring sacred music to the Southeast. As Conaway remarked, the trip “foster[ed] a unique bond” among singers “in a way that regular rehearsals and performances don’t. … The tour was a unique and gratifying experience, and I’m grateful to have been a part of it.” The Liturgical Choir plans to utilize the momentum acquired on its tour throughout the spring semester, which—in addition to its customary participation in Holy Week services—will culminate in an unprecedented Palm Sunday performance of Mozart’s Requiem.
While the Liturgical Choir was busy in the Southeast, 48 members of the Notre Dame Folk Choir spent their last week of Christmas break touring throughout the Midwest. The choir sang a setlist of 13 hymns and spirituals—including original compositions by their Grammy-winning director—throughout Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan.
The Folk Choir’s mission, as summarized by director Dr. J.J. Wright, is to “bridge the gap between contemporary compositions of a post-Vatican II church community and the rich expression of traditional choral repertoire.” This Christmas break, the group aimed to bolster their mission by singing traditional choral concerts at churches around the Midwest, as well as concerts in secular spaces like De La Salle High School in Warren, Michigan.
The group’s members, affectionately nicknamed “Folkheads,” gathered to rehearse at the Sacred Heart Parish Center on Sunday before departing on the tour, and the group’s energy was palpable. “One of the things that I love most about Folk Choir tour is how close everyone gets,” Thomas Mazzurana, the tour’s coordinator and a sophomore tenor, told the Rover. “It was really nice to see the whole tour come to fruition.”
The tour’s concerts were well attended throughout the course of the week, with a strong showing from recent graduates of the choir, who not only attended the concerts but also consistently provided beds to the 48 touring singers. Maria Everett, a senior from St. Mary’s College, remarked to the Rover that one choir alumnus host told her “about how alive the Folk Choir community still is in her life.”
Since providing music for Mass is the choir’s primary ministry, choir members found it fitting that the week of fun, song, and prayer concluded with Mass celebrated by Bishop Kevin Rhoades at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Fort Wayne, IN.
Despite the long and largely sleepless trip, Joe Robuck, a freshman in the choir studying biology, told the Rover that the tour was possible only because of the group’s strong community: “If it was any other group, I wouldn’t be able to perform everyday on an average of 3 hours of sleep every night.”
After their successful tours, the choirs have returned to their weekly liturgies, and will continue to sing in preparation for oncoming Holy Week.
Mattie Lossing is a junior studying political science and theology. If you want to chat with her about the radically Catholic ontological assertions of the “Barbie” movie, you can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Liam Schlosser is a sophomore in the joint major of theology and philosophy. When not making the most of the free espresso machine in the Sorin Fellows lounge, he can be contacted at email@example.com.
Photo Credit: Notre Dame Liturgical Choir, Notre Dame Folk Choir
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