When international pop star Shakira of “Hips Don’t Lie” fame needed a background track for a song on her album Oral Fixation 2, she turned to a classical choral ensemble called Seraphic Fire.
At first, collaboration between the Latin singer and a classical chorus seems unusual. But to Patrick Dupré Quigley ’00, who’s directed the Grammy-nominated Seraphic Fire for the past 10 years, Shakira’s choice made perfect sense. The Miami-based choral ensemble has earned a reputation for varied repertoire, musical adaptability and concerts that speak to Miami’s young and diverse population.
“There was some bridging the gap between all of us, who are in a lot of ways wedded to the page, to communicate music,” says Quigley, who founded the popular campus a capella group, The Undertones, in his freshman year at Notre Dame. “It was great. She’s wonderful.”
The 24-member Seraphic Fire and its partner ensemble, the seven-member Firebird Chamber Orchestra, purposely perform a wide range of musical genres. In April, they presented a concert of such American works as “Hoedown” from Aaron Copland’s Rodeo, John Adams’ “Shaker Loops” and a new composition by Christopher Theofanidis. In May, they performed religious music created by Spanish Baroque composers in the missions of the New World. Seraphic Fire even received two 2012 Grammy nominations, but for different recordings: A Seraphic Fire Christmas and their recording of Johannes Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem.
Modern ensembles rarely perform such a wide repertoire, but Quigley says the cultural and musical variety keeps Seraphic Fire performances interesting.
“We, as a choral ensemble, can traverse many different musical aspects, many time periods, and weave in those time periods . . . into the events that we do,” Quigley says.
In January 2011, Seraphic Fire presented a concert of sacred music at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. Their performance included a typically broad swath of choral music, from modern Estonian composer Arvo Pärt to Spanish Renaissance composer Tomas Luis de Victoria.
Professor Margot Fassler, the co-director of Notre Dame’s Master of Sacred Music Program, managed to get a seat at the sold-out event. “The genius of Patrick shone through in the concert,” says Fassler, who taught at Yale when Quigley studied there. “You could really get a sense of the extraordinary sonic landscape of the Basilica.”
Quigley attributes Seraphic Fire’s success to its accessible concerts designed for the people of Miami-Dade County. The group performs multiple short concerts, often in local churches.
“We try to make the concert experience as inclusive as possible,” Quigley says. “We will teach you about the music. You don’t have to know about what you’re seeing prior to seeing it.”
Quigley and Seraphic Fire have also made their mark in Miami by extensive community outreach. With a grant from the Knight Foundation, Quigley also created the Miami Choral Academy, a youth music education outreach program. Now in its second year, the choral academy teaches 200 young students who participate in five choirs in four inner-city elementary schools.
“The average household income in all of these schools — and this is household, not personal, meaning both parents’ income — is at max $33,000,” Quigley says. “So these kids would have no access to the arts if it weren’t for the Choral Academy.”
Whether Quigley is directing educational outreach or adventurous concert programming, his goal remains the same: faithfully presenting new, exciting music to a community that may be hearing it for the first time.
“Music is music, when you come down to it.”
CDs and ticket information on the two groups are available at seraphicfire.org/
Michael Rodio, who was this magazine’s spring intern, writes for the Daily Domer, a new Notre Dame news site.