Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The reach of a thought, the reach of a song

Some might begin their writing today by saying "now that the holiday season has ended..." But that would not be me. I choose to say "now that we have entered the holiday season...."

Sure, the Christmas soundtracks in the shopping malls have all been thrown aside, so that we can now ponder the immortal truths put forward by pop singers. But for me, the days that follow the Nativity (what we call Yuletide) – and they are many – each contain their own wonder. Especially at a time of year when I can spend much more of my time with children and grandchildren, the messages of the Incarnation seem so tangible, so close.

It is a time, these holidays, when thoughts reach out across vast distances: cards sent by loved ones and friends, separated by miles and even by oceans, seem all the more powerful. Messages conveyed at this time seem all the more bright, even as the world slowly tilts its path away from the winter solstice once more. Light means more. Words, and music, provide that illumination.

Songs, too, seem to take on their own immutable power in the days following the Nativity: they announce things, bring hope, give listeners something tangible on which to place those hopes. And this year, I received something of a Christmas present, from a group of people I've never worked with, or even conversed with before.

It all started when one of my former choir members, Jeff Bray, wrote to me looking for some resources for the song, "O Mary of Promise." Years ago, I had written the text of this piece – not something I usually do – and joined it to the beautiful, ancient Irish tune Siobhan ní Laoghaire. Jeff pointed me to a You Tube website, and simply said, "have you seen this?!"

Well. I had not. And after seeing this post, a heartfelt note of congratulations was sent to the young men and women of the Bradford Catholic Youth Choir, in the Diocese of Leeds, far away in the Midlands of England, under the superb direction of Benjamin Saunders.

Such is the power of the Word became Flesh – that Words, and Songs, and Love itself, can leap over great distances, even over oceans, to gain a small but beautiful glimpse of the Incarnate Love so promised by this season.

For with God, there is no limit to the reach of a thought, or of a song. 'Tis the season when Love (with perhaps a little bit of help from the Internet) traverses the world in a heartbeat.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Crestmoor Dr, Boone, United States

Monday, December 1, 2014

An Irish Victory (sans football)

Yes, I'm writing this at the end of the formal football season at Notre Dame. No, this has nothing to do with that peculiar, cultic ritual that holds us captive from the end of August until the end of November each year.

Far from having to do with the events on the gridiron, this posting has everything to do with what is happening on other green fields – specifically, the fields of the Diocese of Ferns (Wexford) and the Archdiocese of Dublin.

Six years and some change ago, we blessed our first group of graduates and sent them to Clonard, a suburb of the very musical town of Wexford. Year after year, house directors and volunteers have labored intensely – assisting with liturgies, shoring up choirs, gathering musicians far and wide and getting music into their hands.

A few weeks ago, this year's volunteers were formally welcomed into the midst of their Irish hosts. And it was a big weekend, for it coincided with the forty-year anniversary of the founding of the parish wherein they serve.

And what a cast had assembled – parish priests and curates who had served over the years; concelebrants from the surrounding countryside of the Sunny SouthEast; musicians from around the city. And, to preside over it all, the Papal Nuncio to Ireland, Archbishop Charles Brown, himself a Notre Dame grad.

There was a victory that October night... and it was not an American victory. It was a victory led by the Irish themselves – led by our old, dear friend Ruairi Byrne and his left-handed guitar; led by Stasia Redmond and Emily and marvelous traditional Irish musicians; led by the sterling voices of the Clonard children's choir, and all the other parish choirs that joined forces – more than seventy of them. Americans were sprinkled in a few spots here and there. But the night belonged to this Irish parish, to Irish leadership, to this assembly. And that's exactly what was hoped for.

Now perhaps you may think this was no big deal, this vigil mass on a Saturday night in a corner of Ireland. But in a land where hymnals are as scarce as hen's teeth, in a land where two whole generations have been disenfranchised from the Church, where a once-proud faith is on the ropes ... this was a big deal. Mass parts sung by everyone. Flutes, violins, guitars, organ and piano – all joined in the chorus, and the chorus was a four-part choir. They sang songs from Ireland, from America – but everything they sang were songs that bolstered their hearts and strengthened their faith.

And at the end, the good archbishop, before the final blessing, looked around at the assembly, and proclaimed: "Never, in all my years of traveling the length and breadth of Ireland, have I experienced a liturgy such as this."

This would be the time to recite the litany of all those incredible young graduates, men and women from Notre Dame, from Saint Mary's College, and now from Marquette, who contributed to the Irish victory that night. But I know that they would simply step aside, with grand smiles on their faces, and simply gesture to their Irish colleagues, insisting that the accomplishments were their own.

In what most professional church observers have described as one of the bleakest landscapes – a Catholic church overrun by scandal, sorrow, and demoralized leaders – there was much hope to be harvested in Wexford on that October night. People would do well to pay attention to the beacon that is beginning to burn there.

And now, another torch has been lit – at Harold's Cross Church, in the city of the black pool, Dublin. More songs to be shared, more hope to be announced, and Irish victories to announce. You'll never see these scores on ESPN. But in the last analysis, I wonder which are the more significant?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Clonard Church of the Annunciation, Wexford, Ireland

Saturday, November 29, 2014

About Turkeys and Number 622

For the past seven years of my life, I've been absorbed with an immense project, entitled the Newman Hymnal of the University of Notre Dame.
It features more than eight hundred carefully selected hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs, an anthology created for the faith journey of our ND students.

One of the greatest tasks associated with this project was the assembling hundreds of sidebars – excerpts from the catechism; poems, historical and liturgical goodies; Scripture passages. Each piece of music had a companion sidebar, a commentary or perspective on the song with which it was paired. It was a staggering task. But now it is completed, and I am happy to report that one can frequently walk through the Basilica of the Sacred Heart or one of the residence hall chapels, and simply observe people reading the hymnal. It was one of my great hopes with this collection.

There's a hymn that I'm particularly fond of in the hymnal, Number 622: "God, Whose Giving Knows No Ending." We paired this text with the beautiful pentatonic melody, Beach Spring. A sample of the lyrics:
Treasure, too, you have entrusted,
Gain through pow'rs your grace conferred.
Ours to use for home and kindred,
And to spread the gospel word.

Eloquent words... and a straightforward celebration of stewardship.

So it was imperative to match up these sentiments with words that were also filled with gratitude, simplicity, and a sense of stewardship.

So I went back to the wisdom of St. Paul, who, in equally eloquent form, provided the sterling commentary:

What do you have, that you did not receive?

What do any of us have, except what was given us?

Thanksgiving – it's more than a day, more than a feast, even more than an attitude. It's a decision, a decision to recognize that the way I live, and move, and have my being, all came from other places besides myself.

And that is a humbling thing.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Red Zone

To the Notre Dame reader, it might appear that I am writing about what happened yesterday on Our Lady's campus – the Blue/Gold game (in which Brian Kelly gets to play Project Runway and preview The Shirt, and fret about his squad's performances in the terrain he calls the "red zone.")

But those who know me well know that I am not commenting upon "the other liturgy."  Especially at the outset of Holy Week, which is the liturgy at this place.  I write of another red zone.

This morning, at the helm and standing in the loft, I must admit to a certain amount of overcome-ness as we made our way through the Solemnity of Palm/Passion Sunday.  Every aspect of it seemed to cut through me like butter.  I was just overcome, over and over again.

It happened as I was entering the Basilica at the tail end of procession, when I heard "Sing Hosanna!" being proclaimed full tilt as the assembly marches in with their palms.

It happened again as the choir broke into the proclamation of the Gospel with their annual angry mob interpretations ("Barrabas!"  "Crucify him!")  While I can never see it myself, my choristers told me than more than a great handful of people seemed visibly disturbed by these bursts of riotous, shameful witness.  As they should have.  An angry mob screaming for capital punishment should never make us feel at peace.

It is a week of full-on, convoluted fury:  Triumphant hosannas followed by the dejection of the Twenty-Second Psalm;  hundreds of students carrying a splinter-laden, enormous cross around campus (that comes on Tuesday) followed by the solace of an Ubi Caritas on Holy Thursday.  The achingly empty, entrance drumbeat of Good Friday, only to blossom a few days later in the tympani parts of "Out of Darkness," that fabulous anthem that has become an Easter tradition with us.

And then there is this song called Cross Cry.  It was sung today by the choir as the anthem for Palm Sunday Mass.  The song keeps coming back to this disturbingly human thought, put on the lips of the suffering Jesus on the Cross:  "Take my mother home."  Could there be no more significant act of compassion by the Son of God that to say such a thing?  Get my Mother out of here.  Do not let her see this.  At the end of the thing, I could barely look at the choir – they had poured such heartbreaking emotion into it.  All I could do was fight back tears, overcome, yet again.

And yet, soon, coming out of this cross cry, there will be another song lifting through the air – the song of the Easter Sequence, in which the Marys come running back from an empty tomb, with impossible news.

How blessed are we, that we have such song to accompany us through all these convulsions of faith.  Watching the seniors in the choir right now, it is downright heartening to watch them passing on their enthusiasms to the freshmen: "You don't know it yet, but your world is about to change.  You haven't experienced Holy Week at Notre Dame."  The upperclassmen speak in hushed wonder, and they are wise to do so.  Today, the freshmen made their first step upon that journey –

– the journey into the Red Zone on Our Lady's campus.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

End of the Green Drought

What happened last Monday in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart hasn't been seen there in perhaps a half a decade.  And in one respect, what happened on March 17th has never been seen – ever.

The academic calendar, and consequently the scheduling of spring break, has been shoving Saint Patrick's Day safely away from our students for five years.  But this year, the calendar had to be shifted a week earlier – which means that we have the opportunity to celebrate the Patron Saint of Ireland's feast day in the Basilica, and to do so for a few more years into the future.

For this occasion, we had the privilege of working with a musician the Folk Choir has known and loved for years – Mr. Skip Cleavinger, Uilleann pipe and tin whistle player extraordinaire.  Skip drove all the way up from Nashville – through the muck of a crazy batch of relentless winter weather – to join us in our celebration.

We've been celebrating the Feast of Saint Patrick since 1988 at Notre Dame.  I know that, because it was also the first year the Folk Choir went on any kind of tour – and that was to Ireland.  I also know that because it was the year Notre Dame won the national championship.

That year, we had begun our work on the Irish liturgy way back in November.  Then our beloved football team went and won the championship game against West Virginia.  In January, 1988, it was announced that the South Bend community would honor the team with a huge parade downtown .... precisely at the time, and on the same date, as the St. Patrick's Day mass.

Here's how the conversation went between me and Sacred Heart's Rector when the parade was announced:  "Steve, we're gonna have to cancel this mass.  You simply can't go up against an event like this – the church will be empty!"
Me:  "The people who care about their faith and their heritage will be there.  And that's all that matters!"

To his credit, the Rector of Sacred Heart was in my corner, and we held to our liturgy as scheduled.  And at 5:15PM on March 17th, 1988, the church was packed.  The place was a sea of kelly green.  And we knew we had created yet another good liturgical tradition at Notre Dame.

And here's another one:  Five days ago, for the first time in our history, Irish dancers led the good bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend down the main aisle of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.  Choreographed by our students and mentored by Fr. David Scheidler, c.s.c., our assistant rector, the processional and recessional moments were joyous, animated movements of Celtic heritage.

As always, the choristers and instrumentalists in the Folk Choir sang this splendid liturgy armed with both the Irish and the English languages.  And perhaps, just maybe, you might've seen the clergy ceremoniously skipping their way down the aisle as the final chorus of Rian Phadraig echoed over the assembly.

At the end of the liturgy, our bishop decided to tweak one of Notre Dame's most famous exhortations.  Leading up to the final blessing, he said, "Go Irish!  Go Evangelize!"

Somewhere, I think there's a saint in heaven with green vestments, smiling down upon us.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Embracing Your Inner Koala

The date was January 2nd, 2014, and my wife Michele and I were just a day out from beginning our Florida tour with the Notre Dame Folk Choir.  Somehow, we had escaped the clutches of Polar Vortex #1 and had made it to Orlando, almost on time.  

We were there to provide music for the North American Academy of Liturgists.  And afterwards, we were approached by someone I hadn't seen in years – Clare Johnson, whom I assisted on occasion as she taught courses in Theology, on her way to her PhD at Our Lady's University.

Clare had some wonderful things to say about the Folk Choir.  And then she threw the curve ball:  Would the ensemble be interested in visiting her country?

DO NOT scroll to the bottom of this blog!  Read on!

Then, Clare said that her Vice President for Mission Engagement would be rolling through the frozen tundra of Northern Indiana in about three weeks.  Could he make a visit to the 11:45AM Sunday liturgy?  Could he have some time to talk about the choir's itineraries?

All the while, in the back of my head, I was thinking – "how could we ever pull off this kind of trip?"

Two and a half weeks later, her colleague, Fr. Anthony Casamento, appeared as promised for our Sunday Basilica liturgy.  Michele and I met him afterwards, and we all went out to a local eatery for lunch.

Sitting across the table, Fr. Anthony explained that the coming year was an important one for his institution:  2015 rings in the twenty-five year anniversary for the university, and they were hoping to celebrate it in a special way.  And then he popped the question:  "Would the Folk Choir be interested in making this journey?"

We had originally thought that 2015 was going to see a trip to Colorado and Alaska for the ensemble.  We had begun to make a few enquiries – nothing binding, but just testing the waters.  And now, this.

So I reached across the table, shook his hand, and said to Father Casamento:

"Father, the Folk Choir would be honored to be a part of your silver anniversary year.  I guess we're going...

.... to Australia!"

Steven C. Warner
Office of Campus Ministry
307 Coleman-Morse Ctr.
University of Notre Dame
Notre Dame IN  46556

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Best Audition Ever

Over the years, I've come to know a whole entourage of people who've become great friends, supporters of the Folk Choir, and just plain over-the-top, berserk Notre Dame fans.

One of them is a confrere in liturgical music ministry, Chris Ferraro, who lives out on Long Island. The Folk Choir visited his parish last May. And – I kid you not – as the bus drove up to the front of his parish, the carillon started pealing out the "Notre Dame Victory March" for the whole neighborhood to hear. He and the parishioners he gathered went on to host one of the most amazing evenings of our Folk Choir NY/Metro Tour, bringing together a packed church of avid singers and congregants.

Chris and I have stayed fast friends. Last summer, he invited me to teach at his week-long Liturgy Institute on Long Island. And just last week, he sent along a mysterious video message to me. I'm including it here:

YouTube Video

It says something rather profound when you turn the hallway corner of your home and discover your child, quietly putting together the pieces of a puzzle, singing the antiphon to Psalm 40: Here I Am, O God without a care in the world. I wonder – a generation from now, when she's putting far more profound pieces of the puzzle together – I wonder if that refrain will come back to her. I bet it will.

Chris, I want to thank you for allowing me permission to share this precious vignette with those who read my musings online. I hope you know how much I admire you, both as a musician and a father; this little film clip illustrates why that is so.

And I want to let you know that your daughter nailed her Folk Choir audition (and is now probably the youngest to do so). The only downside for me is that, by the time she reaches her college years, there will be another Director at the helm of the Notre Dame Folk Choir.

Still, the tune might just last longer than me....

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Woodhurst Rd,Granger,United States

Saturday, February 15, 2014

A Grandfather's Weapon

A few weeks ago, I found myself talking to people at a liturgical music workshop about the difference between music in the 1970's and music in 2010's. "I feel sorry for this generation," I said, "because I had Bob Dylan to listen to. I had Peter, Paul and Mary singing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. And I had prophets like Pete Seeger, who wrote anthems that compelled hundreds of thousands of people to think in different ways. What does this generation have? They have Madonna and Lady Gaga! They have Taylor Swift!"

Now, that might seem a little harsh. Because this generation also has Bono, who continues to work tirelessly through the (Red) program to raise awareness (and millions of dollars) to wipe out the AIDS virus. But there aren't a lot of voices like his out there, at least in the music profession.

This reflection could easily turn into one of those "I remember when..." rants. But I won't take a ride on that cheap trolley. What I do want to comment upon, though, is what happened two weeks ago in St. Louis, among my fellow composers, when on Wednesday morning it was announced that Pete Seeger had passed away. It was as if a collective stomach punch had been delivered to my fellow song writers; speaking for myself, his passing had a profound effect on the day, and served as a way for me to look at the way I do my own work.

For here was a man who sang to end injustice to the poorest of wage earners, and with the same pen, wrote an eloquent summation of the Book of Ecclesiastes. Here was a man who, armed with nothing but a banjo and a twelve-string guitar, sailed a river in New York – a polluted, cancerous highway of rotten water – and by simple witness helped people understand that corporations that ruined our landscapes needed to be held accountable for their travesties.

To be that kind of musician to the very end of his days, to be that prophetic, energetic voice – that is worth aspiring to.

Pete Seeger's weapons were carefully chosen. The strings, wood and skins that comprised his instruments were much less expensive than the weapons many people carry today. But his weapons were much more powerful, for they were built of compassion and perseverance, and they went straight for the heart. Yet he sought not to kill. He sought to find a way to help people live.

Unlike me, Seeger wasn't a church musician. But if you look at the banjo above (thank you, New York Times, for a superb obit on this man!), you'll see the kind of swords into plough shares reference that, yes, is at the heart of the Christian prophetic message. I'd like to think that my own guitar has a hand in that: surrounding hate, and forcing it to surrender.

A guitar can be a mighty weapon. It can touch hearts without a scalpel. It can open people's eyes, sometimes better than an optometrist can. It can hold a politician or a bureaucrat accountable. It can soothe without even the touch of a hand. It can shape vocations and cause people to actually change the directions of their lives.

It's the kind of weapon a grandfather can be proud of.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Woodhurst Rd, Granger, United States

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Lector Who Sang with Words

Sometimes grace hits you at a moment you least expect, and in ways that are completely off your radar.

I went down to St. Louis this past week, and did so in not the best of mind-sets. I was still pretty exhausted by the Folk Choir's tour to Florida, and another week away from the Golden Dome, while sometimes enviable, also leaves you with double the work when you return.

So I was feeling rather overwhelmed when I was collected at Lambert Airport, knowing that I was about to jump into an intense four days of music, theology and collaboration with my sacred music composer colleagues.

Then, we had night prayer, our first night. And the person who shared the Scriptures with us was an old friend and fellow composer from Ohio, Rino Angelini. He's been in the field of ministry as long as I have – more than thirty years – and by rights probably has as many cuts, scrapes and burns as anyone who's worked in the trenches for such an extended period of time.

So when Rino stepped up to the podium, and it being the end of the day, I was beginning to put myself into that Scripture stupor that tunes out all things except my own selfish mantras.

Then he began to read the Pauline letter. "Read" is a poor word, though that was what he was doing. Breathing with and through the sacrament of those words is probably more like it. Speaking with all the authority of one who has served the church all his life, yet doing so with humility and grace and a sense of musical energy that could not be denied. Yet all the while he was exhorting, encouraging, enabling: putting both himself and anyone who dared to listen in direct contact with the Word.

It is always a blessing to make my way to St. Louis, as crazy as the weather can be. But it is not just the music that draws me here. This amazing group of men and women – poets, composers, church musicians, husbands and wives and clerics, people who have utterly devoted themselves to the church – every one of them is an inspiration. Every one of them spends countless hours of their lives crafting musical ideas, and these ideas must be both prophetic and orthodox at one and the same time.

And I look up to every one of them.

Not just for their compositional skills, either. Sometimes, simply because they have the gift of being a lector, singing the Word of God without even striking a note. Singing, because their whole life has been a Song.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Woodhurst Rd, Granger, United States

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

"To Confer With Fellow Wizards"

Ever since 1998, I've had the extraordinary privilege of taking a trip the last week of January. By hook or by crook, I somehow find a way out of the frozen climes of northern Indiana and make my way to the suburbs of St. Louis, Missouri.

But the destination isn't what beckons me to the banks of the Mississippi River in the wintertime; it's those who gather here.

About fifteen years ago, a dear friend of mine, John Foley, S.J., got the idea of gathering writers of sacred music from around the globe. He dreamed of a week of camaraderie, combined with prayer and study. And in many ways, John's vision has shaped the repertoire of the American Catholic Church. For as we gathered and got to know one another, we did what the church usually does: we began to work together. Pieces of music began to be written, this time with a couple of names attached. Collaborations, collections, began to take shape.

Over the years, John and his superb assistants have gathered names from every discipline, and have orchestrated lectures by these guests on music, theology, or poetry. We've had visits from Alice Parker, the famous colleague of Robert Shaw; Brian Wren, the superb poet of sacred song; Ronald Rolheiser, the gifted chronicler of the spiritual journey; and this year, we were honored to have the superb Old Testament Theologian, Walter Brueggemann, speak to us of Lamentation in the Scriptures (more on that later).

But to be in the same room with people whose music has shaped my own spiritual journey is something hard to put into words. I'll list just a few of these folks – and the songs they have created that have been foundational to my own ministry:

There's Bob Hurd (Ubi Caritas Est Vera), Roc O'Connor, s.j., (Jesus The Lord), Marty Haugen (OK, about forty songs), Rev. Mike Joncas (the same), Rory Cooney (Canticle of the Turning), and Paul Inwood (Center of My Life). There's Bob Dufford (Be Not Afraid) and Jaime Cortez (Somos El Cuerpo de Cristo). There's M.D. Ridge (I Sing A Maid) and Rufino Zaragoza, o.f.m. (Jesus, My Only Desire). There's David Haas, (You Are Mine) Carol Browning (Lead Us to Your Light) and Christopher Walker (Out of Darkness).

As I said, to be in the room with all these creative, passionate, wonderful souls – it is a grace, a humbling, wonderful oasis of prayer and song.

Some of my own pieces were first heard by these, my friends: "Make of Our Hands A Throne" and "Lead Kindly Light" are two songs that I brought to my colleagues here for an initial listen. And a few years back, I brought along a draft of "¡Escucha! Put It In Your Heart" to my great friend Jamie Cortez, who added his own creative touches to the setting. These are my own stories. But there have been hundreds of them, all launched because that wonderful priest from St. Louis, John Foley, dreamed the dream of bringing us all together in the first place.

There are times when I feel the Church has been reduced to an object of abuse, a Catholic piñata, as it were. And sometimes the abuse has been self-inflicted as well, when, despite our best intentions, we just go and shoot ourselves in the foot.

But when I am with these men and women of faith, these wizards of word and tune and sacred longing, I am bound more closely to the hope of the Church. They bring passion, creativity, boundless dreaming, humor, gentility, gutsy commitment, and unparalleled aura of promise to their labors.

And I get to sit with them, dreaming up what songs might come next.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Mercy Center, Geyer Rd N, Frontenac, Missouri

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Everything Old Is New Again

The steps leading up to the church are the same, the hardware on the doors as well. The font still greets you as soon as you walk through the vestibule. The turret that takes you up to the loft is as claustrophobic as ever. And it's still a hat trick, trying to fit 60 voices and instrumentalists into a gallery that was designed for half that number.

But look a little closer this week, and you'll find that everything has now changed. The differences are from stem to stern – and these are apt terms, because the navis, what is known as the nave of the church, is actually a nautical term. And the changes I'm about to describe have taken place within this topsy-turvy vessel we call the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.

The carpeting is now gone. In its place is a sort of faux-slate material, a luscious, warm, stone-like treatment that unifies the colors of the sanctuary, the wood tones of the pews, and the darker trim of the entire church. And this one factor, the absence of padded material on the floor, has created an entirely new canvas for the musicians in the Basilica.

Normally I include a picture with my post, but today, you'll just have to imagine this – not in your mind's eye, but in your mind's ear instead. For this is not in the realm of a pictorial. It is in the realm of the aural.

There is always another voice that is part of an assembly: it is the voice of the building itself. And that voice can either build up or stifle, depending on a myriad of factors: flooring, ceiling, hard surfaces, carpeting, even the very shape of the building. They all combine to either help or defeat the efforts of a participating assembly and its choir.

Now, with the absence of the carpeting, about two seconds of reverberation time have been added to the church. To some, that might not seem like a big deal. But it can be a huge difference, and it affects everything: diction, percussion, even small changes in how fast the pieces can actually be done. No doubt, there are modifications to our own work that will have to be made. But with our first mass back in the Basilica last week, I think this is an acoustic home that we'll adapt to, measure by measure and week by week.

Years ago, GIA Publications had an ad campaign (complete with bright red buttons): "Carpet bedrooms, not churches!" they cried. It was an apt battle cry back then, and the rules of acoustics haven't changed.

So let the song sing! And let us roll up our sleeves and get used to the new dynamic!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Notre Dame, IN

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Flying Cello

My NEXT post will be post-Mass tomorrow, because tomorrow morning the Folk Choir heads back into the Basilica after January break – except that the Basilica really won't be sounding like the Basilica you all used to know and love. That's because every stitch of carpeting has been removed, replaced by a warm, ruddy, stone-like material.

But today, I turn to the fun-loving members of the Notre Dame Folk Choir, who, like many in the Midwest, are doing their part to eke out an existence in the midst of yet another (and another, and another) polar vortex.

Yesterday, we had all of the Senior Class over to the house for an hours-long missioning and focus session. They all plowed through snow and drifts to get there – it was a lot of work to travel up to our home while the roads were really slick – but once there, everyone settled in next to the cozy fire and an exhilarating discussion ensued.

Today, however, the weather turned brutal again. Nevertheless, the choir had to report to the Basilica at 11AM for a full sound test in the new acoustic environment, sans carpeting.

One of our instrumentalists snapped this shot of our renowned cello player, Gavin, on his way to said rehearsal. Call it – dedication! Ingenuity! Dogged determination! Death wish! Chilly cello chicanery! But there he was, pedaling his way across campus while the temperature was a balmy 22ºF.

Next up? Hard to say, but the high on Monday is supposed to be 1ºF. For those of you reading this blog from across the waters, do the math. All I can tell you is, there's no more room to pitch the snow.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Woodhurst Rd, Granger, United States

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

In Conclusion: There, and Back Again

It is a custom we have long embraced: the bus departs the Indiana Turnpike at Exit 77, and we make our way along Angela Boulevard.

And then, we turn the corner, head due north, and the Dome becomes visible for the first time.

When that happens, somewhere in the middle of the bus a few voices begin singing our Alma Mater, "Notre Dame, Our Mother." By the time we pass the Security Check, the entire choir is singing in four-part harmony.

The pilgrimage is over, and it is time to take stock, to look back on memories, to ask the "why" of what we experienced, to hold in prayer the faces of those who fed and housed us along the way.

What shouldn't be discounted here is the vast, vast experience of church witnessed by our choir, experiences we encounter as we travel the hundreds of miles that make up an excursion by this ensemble. We have seen it all – married Catholic priests, fabulously hospitable people, parishes now run entirely by deacons, humbling welcomes, even a few hostile musicians here and there. We have met bishops who were truly in love with the sheep they shepherd. We have traveled through impoverished dioceses, yoked with rules that would daunt a Pharisee. We have seen parishes that have a beautiful balance of social justice, spirituality, music and liturgy. And all the while, as pilgrims, it has been our solemn task to accept what is given us, sing the very best we can, and greet every stranger as if we were seeing the face of the Savior.

Now, as we head back to the Golden Dome, it becomes my task to sort through all these memories.

There are many, many thank you letters to write now that I'm home: this, in and of itself, is an amazing testimony to the wondrous acts of hospitality that we encountered.

When we leave Notre Dame, I always say a silent prayer for safe travel. I pray to the Mother of God and to St. Brendan, Navigator and protector of all who wander in the Name of The Lord. That prayer is a silent, hidden one.

But upon our return the prayer is one of song, full of thanksgiving and gratitude. It is an appropriate song of protection, this Alma Mater of ours, for it celebrates our being under the mantle of a woman who watches over us all:

Notre Dame, our Mother, tender strong and true.
Proudly in the heavens gleams thy gold and blue.
Glory's mantle cloaks thee, golden is thy fame,
And our hearts forever praise thee, Notre Dame.
And our hearts forever love thee, Notre Dame!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Woodhurst Rd, Granger, United States

Monday, January 20, 2014

Folk Choir Day 11: Sabbatical and Mouse Ears

Pity the poor people who boarded Disney's monorail on Sunday morning, January 12th. All those tourists, comfy with their strollers and backpacks, soon found themselves surrounded by fifty deranged college students, belting out an improvised medley of Disney faves – everything from "Under the Sea" to "Let It Go!" And there was no escaping their effervescence.... at least until they got to the Magic Kingdom. But by then, the choir was just getting warmed up.

The Folk Choir had worked very, very hard over the past ten days: five masses (three on Epiphany, two on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord), an ecumenical Vespers service, six concerts, and three diocesan music workshops; all of these took place in this short expanse of time. And so on the eleventh day they rested.


Rather, these crazies assaulted the Magic Kingdom as if the Apocalypse was upon them. I only heard the rumors (I took the ticket to Epcot, where life might be a bit quieter) ... rumors of Space Mountain four times in one hour, choir members' water bottles somehow making up for the fact that Splash Mountain was closed, impromptu bursts of sacred song filtering out from Cinderella's Castle, screams of delight when Tinker Bell appeared at the end of the day, sprinkling some kind of star dust on enchanted choir members below. (The consensus of these aspiring university students: "I want that job.")

But it is any surprise that young men and women who so delight in song and celebration will simply jump into the frivolity of the "Happiest Place on Earth?" They can barely contain themselves when we blow up the rafters with "Come to the Living Stone" and "Come and See." Now, they were at a place where they had license to celebrate.

Which they did. All day long.

As the monorails were pulsing their passengers back to their carriages before the clock struck midnight, the four adults in the choir watched with glee as this pack of mouse-ear-crazed musicians bounced back into the parking lot. They had been going at it for more than ten hours. They probably could've gone another ten. And they'd earned every precious minute of it.

When the whole concept of "sabbatical" was created, I wonder if God had in mind a glorified swamp in Florida that was presided over by a rodent. Probably not. But the Creator's sense of humor is pretty endless, so at the very least, he must've laughed himself silly looking down upon these singers that love him so much.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Folk Choir Day 10: The Volley

One of my great friends, Fr. Michael Driscoll, once left me with a simple insight that has stayed with me since I first heard it. Michael is one of those rare individuals who possesses great skills as both a scholar, a liturgist, and a musician. So, given my own interests, the two of us have absolutely nothing in common....

When it comes to churches and music, Michael's insight is direct and to the point: "If you get into an argument with the building, the building always wins."

How true are these words! One of the greatest difficulties in bringing a choir on the road is the fact that you never know, from place to place, what kind of acoustic landscape is going to rear its ugly head. Even with the best of plans (the Folk Choir often sends ahead an "intake page" that asks for specifics regarding the organ, the design of the sanctuary, and so forth) – even with all this, you just never know what you're going to get until you step into said House of God.

How a song "sings" in each environment is a crucial consideration to the conductor. On tour, the choir has a standard repertoire every night – a concert program. But no song is ever sung the same, because the church building itself is part of the equation. And no two are alike.

Here's an example: when the Folk Choir offers a concert to the monks of Gethsemani down in Trappist, Kentucky, we must be careful to choose music suited for a tremendously resonant space – it was designed in such a way as to support the beautiful English plainchant of the community.

But a lot of parishes either have carpeting in the aisles, or padding on the pews, or both. And in these "dry environments," chant and a cappella settings can be downright dangerous.

So it was with a great deal of joy that we were introduced into the choral area of the Cathedral of Saint Jude. The whole layout was designed like a choral shell, with one sole purpose – naturally projecting the sound of the singers directly into the nave of the church. Furthermore, it wasn't removed from the assembly, high up in some gallery. The principal level of the singing area was only about three feet higher than the floor of the cathedral – something I'd never encountered before.

And there were acres of space! Room enough for two choirs, really, and ample breathing space for strings, winds, brass, and percussion.

But the best part of all was that moment that I've affectionately called "the volley." It's that amazing instant when you conclude a song, and then savor the ending in the silence that ensues. In this magnificent building, that choral sound traveled straight down the nave like a cannon shot. And over the weekend, our 50 singers and half-dozen instrumentalists had a field day, reveling in a building that was designed to help, not hinder, our praise and thanksgiving.

Thank God that there are people out there that understand acoustics, how a building can be crafted in such a way as to serve the Word, both in its spoken and in its musical form!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Cathedral of St. Jude, St. Petersburg, Florida

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Folk Choir Day 9: When a Workshop Leaves You Speechless

I'm back at Notre Dame now, but there's still plenty to ponder and write about regarding our trip to Florida this past week. At the end of our pilgrimage, we were hosted at St. Jude's Cathedral – and not only were we there to offer a Concert of Sacred Music (see the previous post), but the following morning, the word was out about a workshop of sacred music for the Diocese of St. Petersburg.

We are fortunate in our work, because we have the superb backing of the staff of World Library Publications – in this case, Raquel Hernandez (who watches over all our music orders), Deb Johnston (who makes sure all our concert programs are printed and delivered on time) and Jerry Galipeau (who just gives me grief!).

So when we opened up the boxes from WLP, the goodies poured forth – sample scores of the Mass for Our Lady and the Mass of Charity and Love, and, for this batch of workshops, a veritable walk-through of Folk Choir repertoire, from Advent ("Take Comfort, My People") through Lent (the "Coventry Litany of Reconciliation") to Pentecost (our Psalm 104 setting, "Send Forth Your Spirit, O Lord").

We talked for more than an hour about mass settings. And this was important, because it gave people the chance to articulate just exactly what has worked, what they're looking for when it comes to mature and lasting settings for the Eucharist. Time after time, I find that workshop participants know precisely what criteria is to be considered when it comes to a fine setting for the Eucharist. The problem is, we're often rehearsing so much that we don't take the time to actually put these norms into spoken word.

But after all was said and done, on that Saturday morning at St. Jude's, it was one song that had the effect of undoing everyone, young and old alike: Fr. Chrysogonus Waddell's simple but overwhelming Easter anthem, "Jesus Lives."

We were singing it in the new choir area of the cathedral, a gem of an area with ample room, a "choir-shell" configuration that sent the words of the singers straight down the nave and into the sanctuary. And when those one hundred voices – the combined choir of area workshop attendees and the Folk Choir – hit the last words: "... rest and reign with Him in heaven! Alleluia!" .... there were people whose octavos were shaking like leaves in the wind, and tears streaming down faces.

Over the years, I have often been deeply grateful for the gift of that elderly, Trappist monk in my life. He was a friend, a colleague, a co-composer, and a mentor to me. I never stop getting caught up in the genius of his own creativity, especially when we bring pieces like that marvelous Easter anthem to choirs around the country.

A friend of mine from County Wexford, Ireland, just wrote to me today and left a piece of wisdom on my doorstep. "Tears," she said, "are the words our hearts cannot say."

She is right. This marvelous music, music that has brought many to tears, will blossom forth with words.

Words that are straight from the heart.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:St. Jude's Cathedral, St. Petersburg, Florida

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Cathedra, old and new

It's not a typo; I use the word cathedra deliberately... the chair of the bishop, in this case the cathedra of Bishop Robert Lynch, the episcopal leader of the diocese of St. Petersburg. For the last three days of our trip, we spent our time working closely with the people of Tampa and St. Pete.

Bishop Lynch has been a long-time friend, a steadfast supporter of the mission of Notre Dame, and a fabulous advocate of the Alliance for Catholic Education. He's also an outspoken cheerleader for a certain person's setting of the Lord's Prayer, a humbling thing for me to know. My wife and I have been hosted by him at his home, and to say that I think the world of this man would, indeed, be an understatement.

But we weren't making a visit to St. Pete merely to visit the bishop. We were working closely with Chris Berke, the Director of Music and Liturgy at St. Jude's Cathedral. A long time before, we had decided upon three different activities: a concert of sacred music on Friday night, a very long and in-depth workshop of liturgical music on Saturday morning, and a chance to sing in the cathedral for the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, for their Vigil Mass.

The last time I was in St. Jude's was almost a decade ago, and I remember the unforgiving cruciform pattern of the cathedral – two whole sections of the church could remain unseen by the others. I had been told by my liturgical friends to be prepared for a shock: the cathedral had been completely, massively redone. And they wondered what I thought.

My jaw just about dropped: here was an enormous edifice, built upon the foundations of the first, a House of God that was airy and full of light, an enormous dome seemingly suspended in mid-air, upheld by the gold-encrusted insignia of the four evangelists. The barrel vaulted ceiling made for stunningly live acoustics; sound and color seemed to cascade around the place. This was not the cathedral I visited years ago!

The good rector, Fr. Joe Waters, gladly explained to me many of the stories connected with the reconstruction of this grand place, including blowing out the sides of the old cathedral so that it could be expanded in such a way for the assembly to behold, in plain view, all who had assembled for worship. (And by doing this, they also created one of the largest open-air pavilions for prayer, at least for a short time!)

It was an immense space. I am glad to say that, when our Friday night Concert of Sacred Music began, it was just about full! And I am also humbled to report that I've never heard an assembly sing the "Lord's Prayer" as enthusiastically as I've heard in the Cathedral of St. Jude. It had been rumored that the entire diocese knows this setting by heart – those rumors are true.

And it was an overwhelming experience, hearing that kind of participation. The kind of shaking up of the soul only a composer can begin to comprehend.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Cathedral of Saint Jude, St. Petersburg, Florida

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Folk Choir Day 7: Digging In

This has been a rich excursion by way of experiences: Liturgies on the Feast of the Epiphany, concerts every night, an Interfaith Vespers Service, and, in the span of ten days, three different sacred music workshops, each in different dioceses.

Today was our second one, and it was hosted by San Pedro Catholic Church in North Port, part of the Diocese of Venice. How we came by this church was no accident, because one of our great violinists, Stephany Fournier, claims this as her home parish.

So when I started planning our visit with the Director of Music, Nathan Boock, we threw around ideas about what was most needed and what we could bring to the parish and diocese. And we settled on the idea of a morning workshop in sacred song.

At first, I was a little hesitant about the notion of a workshop on a weekday... seriously, Friday? But it was clear to me that we were in a landscape made up of retirees, or people that were only employed part time here in Florida. My fears were put to rest when more than fifty people showed up from all parts of the diocese, choristers, instrumentalists, and directors alike. And it was a tremendous morning of song, commentary, and insights into the craft of creating sacred music.

We dug in deep, asking our attendees to think about what we've experienced through the vernacular liturgy over the past 50 years. What works? What makes a good mass setting? What can we expect of our assemblies? How are texts and tunes woven together? What motivates young people in their faith? These, and a host of other questions, flowed from our morning together, as we opened up score after score and spoke of what we encountered as we sang each song.

After a thorough consideration of two mass settings – the Mass for Our Lady and the Mass of Charity and Love, we moved into some of the seasonal repertoire of the Folk Choir. And when we got to Easter, we opened up the anthem "Jesus Lives" by my old friend and mentor, Father Chrysogonus Waddell.

Now, granted, I had an unfair advantage – the amazing vocal and instrumental abilities of the Notre Dame Folk Choir. And they pulled out all the stops on this hymn, one of the great favorites of the choir since it was published a few years ago, shortly after Chrysogonus died.

But I don't think I was prepared for the intensity of emotion that followed the final "Alleluia!" of the fourth verse. People attending the session were openly weeping, and after the final chord was sounded, the room remained hushed, speechless. It is the kind of reaction a choir director dreams of – that sacred quiet that no one dares to interrupt. And we all experienced it that morning.

In some ways, this tour has been a tremendous effort for me, a constant chalice of both being poured into and poured out again. The emotions, the stories received, the tears of both appreciation and the quiet apprehensions as we approached each place for the first time, not knowing what we would encounter – all of this has left a mark on me.

But if a mark has been left, it is the Sign of the Cross, and it is dug deep into my heart.

And gladly do I wear it.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:San Pedro Catholic Church, North Port, Florida

Friday, January 10, 2014

Folk Choir Day 6: Old Florida

The trip we designed for this Florida pilgrimage was expansive: we started in the Winter Park/Orlando area and then headed all the way up to the Panhandle, past Pensacola. Then, on the way back, we made our way along the Gulf of Mexico to the sleepy little town of Apalachicola.

Why here? Because over the course of the past year, we were contacted by two marvelous people, Marie and Willoughby Marshall, who had kindly inquired as to whether they could receive an "injection of liturgical enthusiasm." Working long-distance with and then finally meeting Marie and Wib has turned out to be one of the great delights of this trip, for though they are octogenarians, they are possessed of a boundless enthusiasm, especially for all things that help to build up the unique and precious community that is Apalachicola.

When, in Fort Walton Beach, we told them that we were headed to this sleepy little town of 2,500 people, the response I got was a dreamy look in the eye. "Apalachicola," they said, "that's old Florida." And it was not said in a demeaning way, but inflected in a manner that connotes reverence. Almost like they had realized that all of their cities were turning out the same way, a conglomerate of malls, parking lots and chain restaurants.

The big news in this town was that a new stop light had just been installed by the school – and some of the locals weren't disposed to seeing the necessity of the thing, so they were just ignoring it. (I cannot verify this peculiar snubbing of the law, but I'll admit it makes for a great story.)

I grew up in a town in rural Vermont with a population of 800. So walking through this sleepy little place, a seaport town that had once been a great shipping center for the cotton industry, was a nostalgic trip for me. Small shops, a community bank, houses that were actually known by how they were related to different members of the town... all this contributed to the experience.

Willoughby, our principal host, is an architect by vocation, and his wise eye has influenced much of the landscape. He asks how to preserve, how to protect, how to keep his hometown vital in the midst of an ever-encroaching sprawl of urban ticky-tack. He seeks integrity and simplicity in design. And he cherishes that which he loves. As does his wife, Marie.

In a lot of ways their lives parallel the stances we adopt in the Folk Choir toward the liturgy. We too seek that which has integrity, that which speaks to the simple and the elegant. And we hold close to that which we love, which is prayer and song.

A great American musicologist, Gilbert Chase, once said something that I still keep close to my soul: "Look to the old ways, and walk therein."

And that we did, in old Florida. In Apalachicola.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Folk Choir Day 5: What We'll Never Know

It is not often that, during the course of a concert, I have the opportunity to "scan the assembly." My choir can do this – in fact, they often speak to me about the way they'll focus their energies on one person or a small group of people, intentionally directing their labors in a specific direction.

But for me that's not possible: the musical decisions that are on my plate, moment to moment, do not grant me that kind of luxury. What's my next capo setting? When do I cue sopranos next? How effective is the blend of guitar and organ? Is the percussion precisely where it needs to be? All these things and more keep me pretty keenly focused on the ensemble before me, and not the assembly behind me.

So on Tuesday night, we sang what turned out to be an amazing concert at St. Mary's Catholic Church, in Fort Walton Beach. It was a great big, beautiful church, and it was packed (I think the hordes of people who had been watching the national championship football match the night before might have finally heard we were in their neighborhood!)

Toward the end of the concert, we sang a song that has a special place in the hearts of the Folk Choir and those who follow our work: "Lead, Kindly Light," the text of which was written by priest and philosopher John Cardinal Newman. At the end of the song, we move to a cappella singing, all the instruments drop out, and I turn to conduct the assembly.

At that moment, my eyes came upon a huge mountain of a man, someone who had his face covered in his hand, his shoulders quaking in such a way that spoke of deep grieving. It was a glimpse, a momentary insight.

We've sung for many hundreds of people over these past few days. And on a certain level, we can glean some understanding of our music's impact as we move from place to place. But that little moment from the podium got me thinking ... about hearts that are touched, about the healing that might be taking place.

It is the other dimension of sacred song that we will never know. Yet it is at the core of why we devote ourselves to what we do.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:St. Mary's Catholic Church, Fort Walton Beach, Florida

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Folk Choir Day 4: The Other Liturgy

So it is day four of our trip through Florida, and we headed up to the Panhandle, where it is a balmy 22 degrees. (When we left Winter Park in the morning, it was 62, so go figure!)

Pilgrimages of the Folk Choir are put together more than a year in advance, so of course we had no way of knowing what would transpire on January the sixth of 2014.

In the old liturgical calendar, January 6th was the Feast of the Epiphany. But in the new calendar, the one marked by Gods of the Sporting World, it meant final day of the BCS, the National Championship Football Game between Florida State and Auburn University.

And here we are, a few hours down the road from both of them, offering a concert of sacred music on what was supposed to be an average Monday night at the beginning of January.

For those who work at the University of Notre Dame, football is The Other Liturgy, so we're pretty familiar with navigating our way around this strange, national obsession. Saturdays are completely lost, whole seasons are defined by the thing. And yet it is craved by all Americans, and an intimate part of the identity of an academic institution, like it or not.

So I was keeping my expectations pretty low on a night when we'd be lucky if the janitor was going to show up for our concert!

Instead, we had a wonderful assembly of several hundred people, and a generous collection handed over to Catholic Relief Services for help in the Philippines. Oh me of little faith. Even in the demilitarized zone between these two football powers, people still had it in their hearts to show up for a concert of sacred music.

And then we got home, late that night, to find out that somehow the Seminoles had pulled it out in the last couple of minutes.

And all I could think was – I wish that had been us on that field!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Curacao Way, Niceville, Florida, United States

Monday, January 6, 2014

Their Music Goes Before Them

It's hard to believe that two years have passed since the introduction of the Roman Missal. (I don't know if this necessarily qualifies for "time flies when you're having fun...) At that time, all of us were in transition mode, figuring out how to respond to prayers without sounding like an idiot ("And also with you... your... spirit....ahem....uhhh") and maybe, with a little dumb luck, finally getting the Nicene Creed right from start to finish.

Well, that was then. And now, two years down the road, I'm tracking carefully what mass settings are being used where. It's important when the Folk Choir is on the road, because both for this weekend's Epiphany liturgies at Sts. Peter and Paul/Winter Park and next weekend's Baptism of The Lord masses at the Cathedral of St. Jude in St. Petersburg, we want to be mindful of what these communities are already singing, so that we can join them in prayer without meddling with their own musical and parochial landscape.

So, what to my wondering eyes (and ears) should appear, in preparing for these weekend liturgies? The parishes we're visiting are already using the Mass for Our Lady and the Mass of Charity and Love! And I happen to know a certain Folk Choir that knows these mass parts cold! Praise the Lord and pass the potatoes! One less batch of music to have to teach while we're on the road!

But that's only a part of the profound moments experienced by me and my colleague, Karen Kirner, when we were with these extraordinary people this weekend. Because it's one thing to write a mass setting and see it on the page, or know it in your head. It's another thing, completely, when you hear hundreds upon hundreds of people singing the Glory to God at the top of their lungs. (see the pic below... that's our Gloria up on the screen!) And that's what we experienced this weekend.

That kind of participation falls not into the category of happenstance. It is prepared for year by year, season by season. It was built up by wonderful musicians like Bill Brislin, who gave so many years of his creative life to building up the assembly song of the Orlando diocese. And now, at Sts. Peter and Paul, that mantle has been passed on to Paul Kusler, who, with grace and competency, has taken up where Bill and his colleagues left off.

We walked into this wonderful parish as strangers. But when everyone opened their mouths in prayer, we found out that we were completely united by song, even though we had never met. It was a remarkable thing, something never to be taken for granted.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Parish, Winter Park, FL

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Choir in Residence

After 48 hours of demanding travels, compromised flights and cancellations, and the necessity to stay flexible as we dealt with travel trauma, the Folk Choir finally took up residence for the weekend at Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Winter Park, Florida.

What a wonderful parish! A superb organ with digital samplings of the old Aeolian Skinner instruments, a beautiful room with superb acoustics, a tasteful and professional projection system for all the prayers and music, and an assembly that, even at the Vigil mass, sings like nobody's business!

We've been blessed by the welcome of this community. It's not often that we will park ourselves in one place for several days, but in hindsight this has been a great blessing. It's given us an opportunity to serve the Orlando diocese by offering a church music workshop over the weekend, and it's allowed us to stay put in one place while various choir members, stranded around the country, were finally able to fly to Orlando.

It's also not often that we've worked with projection screens in churches. But the layout of this house of prayer is both unique and extraordinary: the assembly faces one another, in a sort of "curved choir" arrangement of pews. And on either side of the nave are huge screens built into the walls, upon which are projected, moment by moment, the various prayers, hymns and antiphons of the liturgy. It works pretty seamlessly... as we experienced at the Saturday Vigil Mass.

Today we have our first concert on the road. But even as we sing, we're aware of what's going on back at home: a severe winter alert with near-zero temperatures and a prediction of fourteen inches of snow!

Alas! We're going to have to endure temperatures in the mid-seventies today!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Seaport Cir, Casselberry, Florida, United States

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Folk Choir Day 1: Reunions

While Mother Nature threw everything she had at the northern parts of our country, the Folk Choir quietly and steadily gathered at Orlando International Airport – a task that took the better part of the day, and will still extend into the weekend. With more than seven thousand serious delays and three thousand outright cancelled flights, even getting to Florida was an act of patience.

And so, the main atrium of Orlando's airport became a full-day reunion of choir members from around the country. Some of those reunions were tearful and long-awaited: our Juniors who were overseas hadn't seen their friends for quite a few months, and the reunions were joyful and wonderful to behold.

"Reunion" was a theme throughout the airport that day. As the sun set (and many of us grew a bit weary after seven hours of waiting), more of our choir started showing up from many outlying places, and shouts and tears and warm embraces became the order of the day. And across the way, at the far side of the atrium, hundreds of people were gathered for another kind of reunion: the welcome home of troops from Afghanistan. Every few minutes, a serviceman or woman emerged from the passageway of an incoming flight, and up went the cheers, and the tears were flowing freely.

And so we begin our labors in the Diocese of Orlando. There is no better way to immerse ourselves in our work, fully aware of the love and support of one another as we break out our choral folders, start our warm-ups, put the finishing touches on concert repertoire, and meet generous host families.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Seaport Cir, Casselberry, Florida, United States

Friday, January 3, 2014

From Fourteen to Seventy-Four (degrees)

It never ceases to amaze me, the miracle of aviation. The mere fact that I am even able to fly from South Bend, Indiana, in the midst of winter havoc, is a source of awe and wonder.

Despite almost an hour of digging out at home, a slippery ride to the airport, and swirling snowdrifts, we were able to take a commuter flight to Detroit – where the weather was even worse – on our way to much friendlier climes. But first, our jet got stuck in a snowdrift as it was being pushed back from the jetway in South Bend! Bad omen?

Nevertheless, we're on our way to Orlando, Florida.

I'm part of the "advance team" as we prepare for something we don't often do with the Folk Choir – a January tour. And it's precisely because of the unpredictable winter weather that we mostly stay away from this travel window. But every once in a while it's a great idea to bring our students to places where 65º is considered chilly!

For the next ten days or so, I'll be writing on the various churches and communities visited, perspectives on parochial life, the witness (and, of course, the antics) of the Notre Dame Folk Choir as we hit the road for the first time in 2014.

We have a pilgrimage planned of great proportions – many weekend masses (both for the Feast of the Epiphany and the Baptism of the Lord), concerts in every venue which hosts us, three area-wide liturgical music workshops and even an interfaith vespers service. But I have every confidence in our ensemble... they have a knack for never-ending energy, and they can make happiness out of an empty cardboard box.

So for all of you who follow my work and that of the Folk Choir, please keep us in your prayers! You never know when, on pilgrimage, you'll encounter the face of God....

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Grand Cypress Blvd, Orlando, United States