Monday, November 28, 2011

Intentions and the Stuff of Healthy Spirits

Today, as we were learning all the new responses for the liturgy, I was struck by how much we at Notre Dame have done by way of preparing for this transition.

This is not to toot our own horn. But at the end of the roster of this weekend's Vigil and Sunday liturgies, I had to look back and say, "that went off, really, without a hitch."

Truthfully, good part of the reason for this was beyond my own doing. All of us in the pews were all wired for this change, and anticipation was high. And we had a great presider strongly guiding us through the whole first-time experience (my colleague, Fr. Peter Rocca, the rector of the Basilica).

But now comes the tough part: the day-to-day, the working with priest presiders who aren't as comfortable in the sanctuary or as knowledgeable as Fr. Peter, the looking into all the residence hall nooks and crannies to find out who's not keeping up. At the Basilica, things have gone well. But there's a lot more to the liturgical landscape, as those who know Our Lady's campus well, than what happens in the Big House on the weekend.

I am, though, immensely proud of what this campus has done in getting ready for these changes. My administrative colleagues have not just encouraged the devotion of a lot of time, planning, passion and resources to these changes; they have mandated them. This is, in my opinion, Holy Cross spirituality, and Holy Cross educational philosophy, at its best.

And here's why: Liturgy is relational. And like all relations, if we put nothing into it, we get nothing out of it. It's as simple as that. When I am told of, or witness, parishes or prayer communities that are on the rocks, it's seldom because they have devoted too much attention to their spiritual expression. Rather, it is because they simply took it for granted.

The confreres I have worked with for some thirty-plus years recognize this. And while we flub up every once in a while, I do think that liturgy is taken very, very seriously around here. We do not take liturgy, or liturgical expression, for granted. And you can point to this, simply by the people involved in celebration week to week.

"Full, conscious, active..." These three precious attributes were given to us through the wisdom of the Spirit, in the first official document of the Second Vatican Council. These principles are still the prevailing law of the land, and they continue to challenge and cajole us into a never-ending, healthy, dynamic pursuit of our Maker. And we need to make sure that our resources: financial, creative, human resources as well – that all are nourished and allowed to thrive.

Over the weekend, friends and family who work in liturgy were calling in, all with stories to share. Every so often, a story would come to light, where the parish was completely shell-shocked by the events and expressions of the weekend. This happened because no preparation, no catechesis had taken place. In other words: no resources were committed to the relationship.

If there's one thing we humans know, it's that everything we do is about relationship. If we put nothing in, we'll get nothing out.

But to be intentional: to fully, consciously, actively articulate our joy and our sorrow each and every week – this is the stuff of the healthy spirit.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Folk Choir Unplugged: Raising the Curtain

With just a couple of days left to go before Thanksgiving, I got THE phone call today from our editors at World Library Publications:

"From Gethsemani to Galway: The Notre Dame Folk Choir in Concert" has arrived at our distributors warehouse in Chicago, and it can now be ordered and shipped! If you're interested in doing this over the phone, you can call (800) 566-6150 and speak with the customer service reps. But the phones have been swamped for the last month (good news – but also reason to be patient!). You can, however, order online. Click here for a link to the online ordering site at WLP.

I still remember when this project was born: Jerry Galipeau, Keith Kalemba, my wife Michele and I were at a lovely restaurant in the Greektown neighborhood of downtown Chicago, about a year ago. We knew the NPM convention was coming up, and we knew there would be many, many people there. And we also knew the legacy of a live concert with our ensemble.

Could we capture it? Could we get everything right on the first take? Could we trust to bringing together hundreds of assembly singers, making sure they were an integral part of the performance? (As it was, it ended up being well over a thousand voices that became a part of the recording).

Keith and Jerry were nothing but confident. And I was sure that we could gather together that faithful family of ND Folk Choir singers, past and present, no matter what kind of combination it turned to be. So from the start, we knew we had a great idea, a solid repertoire, and a title (which was my contribution to the effort) that spanned our creative story of the last thirty years.

Our producers, John McCortney and Keith Kalemba, worked their customary magic by taking an extraordinary night of song and translating it into something inspiring and cohesive in digital media. It's hard to describe how resounding is the singing of the assembly: somehow, John McCortney was able to line up both the "small choir" of the ND singers, and the "huge choir" of the assembly, making it sound both voluminous in that grand old church, yet also precise in its performance.

And listening to the takes, over and over again, I was once again inspired by the keyboard skills of my dear friend and colleague, Karen Kirner. Putting on headphones and hearing her creative cascades (listen to "Bless the Corners of This House" and you'll know what I mean) made me realize, as I do often, what an exceptional blessing she is to Our Lady's campus.

And to my fellow singers in the choir, both alums and current students, I can only say: you have once again enfleshed that mystery that always astounds me! In 36 hours, you brought your hearts and voices together as only a family of faith can do, and in this short amount of time created a group of choristers that sounded like they'd been singing together for years.

Yet in a way, we always have been. Time, distance, and diverse roads all melt away, once we open our hearts to sing – and we realize that the family is together, once more. It is the song that binds us. And this recording is a testament to that mystery.

May all of you have a blessed Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Liturgy and Kermit: It's not easy being green

And what did you sing for your Gloria on the Feast of Christ the King?

For all of us in the Folk Choir, we had a powerful yet wistful moment, belting out David Haas' Mass of Light Gloria for the very last time on Sunday morning. A few others will be retired, too (like our own African Glory to God), but it was very clear to us, as we sang this much-loved setting, that we were on the doorstep to a new era in church music, sacred language, and hence the whole lexicon of spiritual expression in our gatherings.

This Sunday, the transition begins, and as Kermit so wisely sang, "It's not easy being green!" Not the color of the famous Amphibian's skin of course: rather, green in the sense of inexperienced and uncomfortable. We're all gonna go through it. Even if Advent 1 goes well, we are now entering the domain of I-can't-just-answer-without-thinking. Those days are now behind us.

Yet with all this, as I spoke with our students yesterday, there was a sense of "bring it on!" that was really quite encouraging. Twenty-five years of the same mass settings can usher in another sense of green: that is, of penicillin growing around the edges of the music scores. It was high time for some changes, a chance to shake up the mix, a chance for creativity to be let loose, a chance to let the Spirit which guides our community put a playful hand to the rudder of the Church and see where we might go.

It's not easy being green. But it can be fun, too, and Kermit knew a bunch about that as well. (His greatest quote: "Time's fun when you're having flies!) And if we're going to survive this transition, I would venture that we'll be all the better off, for keeping a bit of his infectious humor at the ready.

Thanksgiving blessings to all of you! May you have a great holiday, safe travels, long naps, and a chance to cherish all the great things that celebrate the sacred in our lives.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Folk Choir Unplugged: Story of an album, part 2

Editor's Note: One of our great alums, Kristen Sullivan Lynch, penned this reflection on the choir's work in Louisville. The photos below were taken by Notre Dame's superb photographer, Matt Cashore, who came down to chronicle the event. Enjoy!

It is always a joyous occasion to get a phone call from Steve. It is always something exciting and if I'm lucky, it means I get to do some great singing and praying and life is good! National NPM conferences are always fun because all the musicians gather with the same thing in mind - hearing great music and refreshing their spirits for the coming year! This year with the Notre Dame Folk Choir, something was different. This was a very special year. For the 30th Anniversary of the ND Folk Choir, "Folkheads" from many different years were gathering by plane, by car, by train, and we had 1 rehearsal concert, one rehearsal, and then the big NPM concert and recording. There was no time to be anything but focused. Everyone felt the honor and responsibility of being a part of this wonderful project and we wanted to do the very best for our fearless and wonderful leader, Steve. Over the years we have all come to know and love Karen and of course we wanted to do our very best for her as well.

The Louisville concert was charged with electricity, the venue was packed, standing room only. Our amazing sound recording artists were ready to "make the magic happen" and Steve still managed to gather us all in the Sanctuary to pray before the concert. The concert went off without a hitch and it was amazing to be surrounded by all the voices of the audience singing along with us - that is really when you feel God's love and presence all around you.

There is something about getting together with Folkheads that is unlike any other gathering. The second we begin to make music together, and Steve is directing us, we are all a strong part of God's presence and we are in love. That is the only way I can express the impact of being a part of the ND Folk Choir. No matter how many years it has been since a person has sung with the group, or if they are currently a part of it, once you open your mouth to sing, or begin playing your instrument, you are a part of the loving presence of God and it changes you forever.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Folk Choir Unplugged: Story of an album, part 1

In a lot of ways, you just can't top the experience of a live album.

For years, people have suggested such a thing from our venerable ensemble. But there were always projects ahead of it: a collection of responsorial psalms (Psalms of the Notre Dame Folk Choir), an anthology of the music we've garnered from Ireland (Songs of Saints and Scholars), or a chance to put together much of the music we use for weekly sacramental celebrations (The Seven Signs).

But about a year ago, we received a singular invitation, and it seemed like the planets were aligning themselves for this live experience to come into being.

The invitation was to this past summer's National Pastoral Musicians convention, in Louisville, Kentucky. And it was singular, in part because of the threshold we all were experiencing, months before the inauguration of the Third Edition of the Roman Missal. Expectations were high. Needs were great. Even the anxiousness of the good folk gathered at that convention was palpable.

We found ourselves, for yet another year, invited to provide a concert of sacred music for this extraordinary gathering.

But to do something LIVE! The hurdles were legion. Was there a way to capture the awesome sound of an NPM singing assembly? How could we bring the Folk Choir to Kentucky, knowing that at least half of them were already involved in either the ACE or the ND Vision program? How do you do a concert when you have one shot at every song – no retakes!

The first problem to present itself was a humbling one. Back in April, we received a phone call from Paul Colleton, o.p., at NPM in Washington. His words of advice: Louisville Cathedral, the place where we would hoped to hold the concert, would not accommodate the projected numbers for our night of song. There was nothing to do but drive down to Louisville and visit churches!

So my great colleague Karen Kirner and I headed south the first week of May, and we found a simply beautiful venue: St. Boniface Church, a mere ten blocks from the Kentucky Convention Center. It was guided by an equally hospitable and caring music director, Bill Lincoln, who welcomed us warmly and showed us just how flexible this mammoth venue could be.

The next hurdle: how to gather up an ensemble in the middle of the summer, when we knew that a mere 15 members of the current ensemble could commit to such a venture. For a concert this big, we'd need about 50 members, and we'd have to work within budget. Furthermore, we'd need this group to sound like they'd been singing together all their lives!

I'm going to write this story in segments, so stay tuned! It's a great story, a tale of the making of an album, and a unique chapter in the history of the Notre Dame Folk Choir.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Paperless and Planning

You could see it coming like a truck: our University is pushing hard for less paper, for ways to streamline, consolidating our efforts to stop cutting down forests. At the same time, we could foresee a pretty urgent need, even a few years ago, to reach our students by way of the Internet. With all the activities ND undergrads are involved in, their ability to learn new music and attend workshops was sorely compromised.

For more than twenty years, we'd been sending out the venerable "liturgy packet" to all our residence halls. But it was beginning to resemble a dinosaur... Wasted paper, slow and cumbersome, and no way to connect with our ND students scattered across the globe, either. We needed a way to reach them on the web.

Three years ago, we started cooking up a new idea in Campus Ministry, assisted by one of our great colleagues, Joe Nava. Joe was in the Folk Choir for years, became a Campus Ministry intern, and had great skills by way of a combined theology degree and computer science. And with his help, we began designing a website for liturgy that was beautiful to behold, had an intuitive interface, and best of all, was the summation of years of liturgical planning, able to be shared with a much wider audience.

The result: a new liturgy planning website offered by Campus Ministry. You can reach the site by clicking this link here. The actual address is

Now, instead of pages and pages lumbering their way through the campus mail system, students can simply click onto the website for instant access to music suggestions, seasonal planning considerations, special blessings and commissioning rites. Here's a glimpse of the home page of the site:

This "portal" opens up the visitor to the entire liturgical year. Further tabs allow for listening to hundreds of MP3 clips of sacred music regularly used in the Catholic world.

But the best part of this new address is access to all of the new mass settings of the Roman Missal, which are available for instruction 24/7, as video tutorials of the new sung texts. These tutorials were recorded in Alumni Hall chapel over the summer, performed with a minimum of resources – guitar, cantor and piano – just like what our halls would use. While we'll continue the tradition of our workshops, students from Dublin, Ireland to Dillon Hall can log on any time they wish, look and listen and learn the new music of the Third Edition of the Roman Missal.

And finally – the site is never complete! There is a "Wikipedia" function for each Sunday planning page, which allows musicians to continue to send their own sacred music suggestions.

Up and running since the start of the school year, our students have eagerly embraced this new resource – we've had more than three thousand visitors since the beginning of the semester! So now, there's one more way to help plan our sacred gatherings.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

When we learn, and when we own

For years, we've been working toward this day in Campus Ministry: the Big Roll Out of the Roman Missal, complete with a foretaste of Notre Dame's Newman Hymnal for our residence halls. The table was prepared: we had our website resource up and running, we had created (through the able help of Jenny Ubl, my superb colleague) a temporary pew edition of the four new World Library Masses which have been chosen for use in the residence halls. All that was needed was for the priests, rectors, liturgical commissioners and music directors of the dorms to show up!

And did they ever! We had, for the first time in all of my years in Campus Ministry, a 100% turnout for the residence halls – every single dorm sent a student representative. We taught three new masses: The Mass for Our Lady, the great rewrite of Michael Joncas' Sing Praise and Thanksgiving 2, and the Mass of Charity and Love. My long-time colleague, Fr. Peter Rocca, csc, went over all the changes – a careful overview of the differences between the old Sacramentary and the new, Third Edition of the Roman Missal. Here's a shot of our morning gathering, more than a hundred strong:

But one of the most important points we delved into as we worked our way through the prayers, responses, acclamations and new mass settings today: there is a big difference between owning the mass, and learning the mass.

We haven't had to face this dynamic for a while – at least for a generation. We've actually had it pretty easy: Marty Haugen's Mass of Creation was the boiler-plate, one-size-fits-all mass setting, and it had rumbled along for more than a quarter of a century. We knew how to respond to everything – which meant, for better or worse, that we were on automatic pilot, scarcely thinking about the things we were responding to, acclaiming, or taking in.

This new Edition of the Roman Missal is going to change all that, whether we like it or not. Even pat responses that we know: "The Lord be with you!" ... (and its response is not what you think!) have changed. We'll all be more tentative. We'll all be making mistakes. But I'll wager that we'll also be thinking much more about what we say and what those words mean.

It's going to take a good, long time to own this new prayer. And it IS a new way to pray. The furniture of our sacred space is being rearranged, regardless of our comfort level. But I'll also guess that there will be a lot of good – maybe even good that our episcopal leaders could not foresee – that will come from this venture. We're going to be thinking a lot more about what we're saying "Amen" to. And that is always cause for celebration, and for song.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Pressing forward for the House of Brigid

Greetings, friends!

I told you I'd give you an update on our Concert for the Missions from last week. This is the first time we've actually held the concert on a Friday night, and save for a few disgruntled guests from Southern California who approached me at Sunday mass, I really think the Friday evening slot is a keeper! Although we went head-to-head with the Notre Dame Glee Club and another big "guy group" (ever heard of "Straight No Chaser?"), the church was full of people eager to hear the Folk Choir.

The focal point of the concert was our continued efforts to celebrate Ireland and help raise consciousness about the faith plight of that country at present. To that end, here are a few words that I shared with the assembly:

"Notre Dame is a singular University, for many reasons. Here is one: where some schools may choose as a figurehead some Greek warrior, or a bird, or an animal, we have chosen a culture as our namesake – the Irish culture. We call ourselves the Irish of Notre Dame. And often I wonder: is our commitment to that culture only found with a mascot, on a football field on a Saturday afternoon?

Ireland needs our help, help to rebuild her church. It is a difficult thing to admit, but they do need it. We have seen it. And we can do something about it. For the past three years, graduating members of the Folk Choir having been working at a new initiative; they have created a lay volunteer community called the House of Brigid, in the Diocese of Wexford, Ireland. Even after three years, their efforts have been legion: they’ve helped bring young children back to the church through sacramental preparation; they’ve formed new choirs in their host parish; they’ve extended their reach far beyond the confines of Wexford, to their entire diocese, teaching new songs and preparing other leaders in liturgical formation; they’ve been sought after for liturgical work as far away as Dublin and Country Galway. And just this year, they were chosen as leaders for World Youth Day in Madrid, chosen to lead their Irish diocese’s young people to meet the Holy Father."

Last Friday night, we raised three thousand, five hundred dollars for the House of Brigid, thanks to the generosity of many supporters of our labors overseas. Even more important, we continue to raise awareness of the Irish Church's health and vitality.

Thanks to all of you who came out for the concert! And to those of you who pray for us, as we make our song heard both here and abroad.