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The Music of Notre Dame

Christie Bolsen | Monday, September 15, 2003

At any given time on the University’s campus, someone is about to break into song.

Although many students choose to sing only when the band plays the Fight Song or during Mass, there are talented singers all over campus who have many groups they may choose to join. At the beginning of each year there are general auditions for some of these groups, from Glee Club to Liturgical Choir. Students indicate their preferences on which groups they would most like to join and then show off their skills for a chance to be a part of one of them.

Like snowflakes and fingerprints, no two choirs are the same. Do you prefer “Amazing Grace” or “Stick Shifts and Safety Belts”? Do you mark “M” or “F” on official forms? Would you prefer a non-religiously affiliated group or are you interested in learning spiritual music from different cultures? There’s something for everyone who has a stunning voice and dedication. Here is a rundown of just a few of the choirs that can be heard around campus.

Glee Club

This all-male choral group is a favorite for musical performances. It’s over 85 years old and more than 2,000 men have been members of the club. New members are added during the general tryout at the beginning of the year, but Glee Club also adds members before spring semester and interviews potential members to make sure they are committed and will mesh with the group.

The main events for Glee Club that are held every year are a fall concert, a Christmas concert, a spring concert, a concert in the Basilica and a commencement concert. Every three years there is also a reunion, and this year is the 88th reunion year. On Sept. 19, about 250 Glee Club alumni will be returning to Notre Dame to sing with the current members at a concert that night and to reminisce about their years singing under the Dome. Everyone is encouraged to attend the Reunion Concert at Stepan Center at 8 p.m. Tickets are $3 at the LaFortune Box Office.

Glee Clubbers can be seen all over campus, though, and not just at their concerts. Every Saturday morning of a football game they can be heard singing “ND in Revue” in the Joyce Center. For the alumni reunion, there will be so many singers that they will be performing in front of the Reflecting Pool at 11:30 a.m. before the Irish take on Michigan State. They will also be singing the National Anthem for the Michigan State game. Besides the big events, members keep busy with numerous appearances that the University or other groups’ requests.

Sean Sprigg is one of the returning members of Glee Club.

“For the audience, I think it’s about enjoying great music and learning something sometimes because there are a lot of obscure pieces that [director Dan Stowe] still picks out that are great, great pieces of music and no one’s heard them much. So you learn a little bit, and then the second half you get to have fun listening to some songs you really do know and love,” Sprigg said.

“Dan’s done a great job of letting us sing pretty much everything,” Tom Schreck, another member of the Club, said. “For football concerts, we do a lot of fight songs, or American folk songs, or Irish folk songs, or barbershop songs. And for our major concerts we’ll still do those but then we’ll also do music from the Renaissance and serious classical literature, and for our concert in the Basilica we do all sacred music,” Schreck said.

For the members, it’s about brotherhood and music. Members take tours together during fall and spring breaks, and every other year they take an international tour during the summer. This past summer the group toured Europe, traveling to Italy, Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Switzerland, France, Spain and Ireland for about a month.

“It was a lot of fun,” member Javier Hernandez said. “It was just different; we basically lived on a bus. I always wondered what it was like to tour with a musical group, and of course you just bonded with all the people because you’re just driving twelve hours a day from country to country and you’ve got nothing to do but talk to each other.”

After an exciting summer, the Glee Club has an eventful year coming up as well, where fans should be able to enjoy numerous performances.

Undertones

This subset of the Glee Club is an a cappela all-male group that currently has 10 members from different classes and all vocal parts. Only Glee Club members can be in the Undertones, and they try to stick with arrangements of popular songs like tunes from the Beatles, Cake, Eric Clapton, the Jackson Five and more.

Sprigg, who is starting his second year in the Undertones, says the group tries to find songs that are fun, recognizable and just sound good.

“We have a lot of fun doing our own arrangements of these popular songs and performing them for girls’ dorms,” Sprigg said. “We usually have one big project per year and lately it’s been an end of the year concert … we also do a lot of small concerts for anyone who’s looking for entertainment.”

This means the Undertones perform for various clubs, organizations and dorms. The Bookstore also has them sing for one hour after every football game. The Bookstore also sells CDs that the Undertones have recorded.

Harmonia

This all-girl a acappella group began when students Brooke Phillips, Jessica Rinaldi, Danielle Rinaldi and Shawna Monson noticed that there was no female a acappella group at Notre Dame. When they realized that the four of them sang all four female voice parts, they began their quest to start a new group. Monson, now a senior and president of the group, has been with Harmonia from the start.

“By the beginning of the next year we had a name, Harmonia, we had try-outs to pick the 12 other girls in the group and we were getting gigs. At the end of that year we had established ourselves, performing with the Undertones to a sold-out crowd in Washington Hall,” Monson said.

Harmonia is now in its third year and still consists of 16 girls who perform frequently at dorm functions, benefits, banquets, parties and concerts. Their biggest event for the past two years has been a concert with the Undertones in May. Auditions are held each fall for any woman who is interested in joining.

“No prior experience is required, all we ask is that they sing beautifully. We are also one of the only choirs on the ND campus that is not religiously affiliated. The songs we sing are songs you would hear on the radio, and we try to stick to the contemporary stuff. Harmonia continues to grow, continues to improve and continues to rule to this day,” Monson said.

Liturgical Choir

Heard at mass each week, the Notre Dame Liturgical Choir was founded in 1973 as the Chapel Choir. It’s made up of both undergraduate and graduate students and performs at the 10 a.m. mass at the Basilica. They also perform at Sunday Vespers, weddings, dedications, ordinations and more. Special occasion performances include JPW, Baccalaureate Mass and Holy Week, which includes Palm Sunday and the Easter Vigil.

The choir usually takes tours each year, its most recent being the May 2003 trip to Italy. The group traveled to many Italian cities and sang at a Papal Audience. Other tours have included upstate New York, Canada, France and the majority of the United States.

Teresa Bloemker, a senior and secretary of the choir, has been involved since freshman year.

“It’s more than just an extracurricular activity, it’s a family. We sing an incredible repertoire – its hard to beat eight-part harmony – and have the privilege of sharing it with the faith community at Notre Dame and throughout the world, thanks to the Hallmark Channel.

“We become the closest of friends not just through singing, but by going on retreats, hosting weekly movie nights and organizing all sorts of activities to bring us together. Being a member of the Liturgical Choir has made me come to love my Catholic faith all the more through the ministry of music,” Bloemker said.

Folk Choir

This group consists of both female and male voices as well as instruments. Their musical selections are unique in that they are taken from all parts of the world, adding a cultural element to their performances. It consists mostly of undergraduate students, but recently also include graduate students, faculty and professional staff members. Members sing during the year at the 11:45 a.m. liturgy on Sundays at the Basilica as well as various worship celebrations on campus.

The choir’s current director, Steven Warner, started the choir in 1980. He talks about the range of the types of music the choir sings, using their performance for Archbishop Desmond Tutu as an example.

“Our choir actually sings music from South Africa … they are songs that actually came out of the response to the apartheid movement. They are songs of liberation, songs of praise to God,” Warner said.

This is one of the unique aspects of Folk Choir; their repertoire includes many selections from other countries and cultures, and they even perform in bilingual liturgies for masses such as St. Patrick’s Day.

“I think God is celebrated in diversity. We belong to a Catholic Church, and the word catholic means universal. That means we see God throughout all the cultures … some people I think can be very pejorative in their stance toward not liking diversity. But the Catholic Church and all of her wisdom says that diversity is actually a sign of the wonder of God. And if that’s the case, then should not our music express that diversity or emulate that diversity as well?” Warner said.

To incorporate different sounds, the choir will play instruments from different cultures as well. For the South African pieces, like “Siya Hamba” and “Hallelujah Pelo Tsa Rona,” a pair of congas is played or a djembe, which means “happy drum.” For the Irish pieces, like “Rian Padraig” (song of Patrick) a bodhran, is played.

The next event for the choir, which was the first to travel internationally to Ireland in 1988, is to travel again to Ireland for Fall Break. Warner describes the state of Irish liturgy right now as “dead on arrival,” with short masses and prayers spoken out of sync. Every three or four years, The Folk Choir goes to Ireland to work with assemblies there to sing their music and learn new music to bring back.

Chorale

Out of all the groups on campus, this is the official concert choir of the University. Over 60 singers perform several times every year, including with the Chamber Orchestra in the Basilica each semester. They also sing Handel’s “Messiah” with the Chamber Orchestra in December in Washington Hall and have concerts in the fall, spring and during Commencement Weekend. They also sing at the Baccalaureate Mass during Commencement Weekend.

Members of the Chorale also take tours in winter and spring, as well as international tours about every three years to locations such as Rome, Assisi, Florence, Venice and Padua. They have recorded “Cantate Domino” and “The Notre Dame Chorale in Concert.”