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.

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