If you have attended Sunday Mass at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart since 1981 you may well remember belting out “How Can I Keep from Singing,” the hymn that has become the unofficial anthem of the Notre Dame Folk Choir. Now imagine it sung in perfectly enunciated four-part harmony by a Folk Choir ensemble — along with 1,500 professional church musicians — and you’ll have a feel for the choir’s newest CD release and its first-ever live album.
Last summer, during a heat wave that kept temperatures above 90 after sunset, the choir performed inside a sweltering Saint Boniface Church in Louisville, Kentucky, at the National Pastoral Musicians’ Conference, an annual gathering of professional Catholic musicians. The choir’s director, Steve Warner ’80M.A., says the concert took months to plan, since it brought together 15 current students and 35 alumni and required near-perfection.
“We knew going into it that we wanted to record, which meant the stakes were high right from the start,” says Warner. “You’ve got one chance for an hour and five minutes to make it right. There’s no second take.”
The concert ensemble of past and present members had performed together only once before, the previous night at a parish in suburban Louisville that raised money for a local shelter for homeless men.
The live album, From Gethsemani to Galway, charts the 30-year journey of the Folk Choir from its collaborative relationship with the Trappists of the Abbey of Gethsemani, just an hour south of Louisville, to the choir’s famous summer tours and a more recent pastoral ministry initiative in Wexford, Ireland, called Teach Bhride, or House of Brigid.
The 17-track album was released through World Library Publications in November 2011. The CD opens with “You Have Put on Christ” and then Warner’s arrangement of “The Lord’s Prayer.” Its final track is the powerful anthem “We Are Marching.”
Much of the Folk Choir’s music was written or arranged at Notre Dame by Warner and Karen Schneider Kirner, the choir’s associate director. Warner wrote harmonies for all of the songs the choir performed at Saint Boniface to encourage audience participation. “Sometimes, the veil between heaven and earth gets stretched very thin,” he says of the performance, “and this was one of those moments.”
Kathleen Toohill was this magazine’s autumn 2011 intern.