Monday, March 28, 2016

When a Song Becomes an Anthem

Having shoved around notes for many years, it is always fascinating to watch what happens when you write a piece of music.  It's always a creative roll of the dice: a composer creates something, then, with a lot of luck, it might just get published.  And after that, it's in the hands of the Church – at least, in my discipline –  to decide a) whether they like it or not; and b) just what kind of an impact it will have in the full landscape of the assembly.

And maybe, when that whole process is completed, a song or hymn or psalm will hang around long enough to become an anthem, and that is an entirely different matter altogether.  For a the hymn, or the song, or the composer does not decide this.  This honor is bestowed by the people, and only after years of use.

In my tenure with the Folk Choir, "anthem status" has, by my reckoning, only been achieved twice.  Neither of them came about by official proclamation – rather, the song itself claimed possession of the title after years and years of hallowed use by those who sang it.

The first such would be "How Can I Keep From Singing?"  It was one of the first octavos printed by World Library Publications under the "Songs of the Notre Dame Folk Choir" masthead.  But even so, it wasn't until about two years ago that people started saying that it was the "anthem of the ensemble."  We found ourselves using the piece, almost consistently, at the end of all our concert presentations.  And it was deserving of the distinction.

Which leads me to the second anthem.  Now, after years and years of use, it appears that the Folk Choir likewise has an "Easter anthem."  Happily, this one is by another great American writer of sacred music, Christopher Walker.  It would be hard to imagine going through an Easter celebration without experiencing the unbridled joy the Folk Choir brings to the culminating verse of his antiphonal hymn "Out of Darkness."

Let your sadness be no more,
Christ has opened Heaven's door.
Death has no more power to slay;
This is Resurrection Day!             Copyright © 1989 Christopher Walker and OCP Publications

This piece, because it has elevated so many hearts over the years, has itself been elevated by the very voices that have sung her hopeful lyrics:  It has become an "anthem."

To all of you amazing singers and instrumentalists that brought life to Chris Walker's hymn again this year (and similarly, to all the Folk Choir members of the past), I say, "thank God for your enthusiasm, your joy, and your bold proclamation that death never has the final word."

Happy Easter to all of you!

Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Doors Blown Open

It is a sight that never ceases to make me shudder – and one that you're bound to miss unless you have your observant eyes locked onto such a detail.  Indeed, from where the Choir is singing right now, in "diaspora" from the Corby transept, it could hardly have been noticed.  But it was there (or perhaps more appropriate, not there) once again this year.

I speak of the grand Tabernacle in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart... And how, on Holy Thursday,  the doors of this sacred vault are blown open.

On Friday afternoon, as I was preparing the Celtic harp for the Passion, I managed to quickly sneak into the sanctuary of the Basilica for this quick shot.  I knew what I was looking for – the pillar of the Holy of Holies, exposed, vulnerable, the gaping emptiness allowing a rare glimpse directly through the heart of the Tower to the statue of the Virgin, far back in the Lady Chapel.

For it is the time of vulnerability: the momentary time when Death seems to have the last word, when betrayal, perhaps, will win the day.  It is the time when symbolic actions on the part of an itinerant preacher could simply be interpreted as a nicety ... Or as the ultimate redemptive action of grace.  Everything hangs in the balance.

For today, the doors are blown open.  All is exposed, in hope and frailty, desperation and faith, blackness and blinding light.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

From the Eye of the Hurricane

You may ask, "why is he writing a blog right now?"

I'll tell you:  Because we're in the eye of the hurricane.

We've already explored the joy of St. Patrick's Day (by the way, if you want to watch the video of the liturgy, click this link:

And then we headed into the emotional roller coaster of Palm Sunday.

Followed by an amazing Taizé service and night of reconciliation in the Basilica last night.

But today, it is quiet: that holding of the liturgical breath before the intensity of the Paschal Triduum.

For those that know and do the kind of work I do, there is a keen understanding of what it's like to be poured into and out of, repeatedly, over the course of these next few days.

More pictures and observations will be forthcoming!  Have a blessed Three-Day journey, dear friends!