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