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Folk Choir hosts 25th Annual Concert for the Missions

| Friday, November 9, 2018

The Notre Dame Folk Choir will be presenting their free 25th Annual Concert for the Missions entitled “Catch the Spirit” on Friday at 8:00 p.m. in the Basilica to benefit the Holy Cross Missions.

This year, the Folk Choir is doing a concert consisting of African-American sacred music in preparation for the Folk Choir’s upcoming pilgrimage to mission sites in East Africa.  

Folk Choir’s director J.J. Wright said the choir will be performing a wide variety of African American sacred music including, line songs, spirituals and jazz pieces from the 20th century and contemporary music.

Fifth year student and choir president Greg Demet said this concert is important because it exposes the community to a wider cultural tradition of music.

“[It] might be music that people at Notre Dame aren’t always exposed to … We’re focusing on African American sacred music where some of it is Catholic and some of it is other Christian music,” he said. “So the whole experience is kind of interesting because … we’re all American so in a way it’s very much American traditional music, but in a way it’s sort of removed because most of us in the choir are white and most of us don’t have that kind of direct experience so it’s sort of a rediscovery of general American sacred music through lenses that we haven’t looked through as much before.”

Wright that when putting this concert together, there were some questions that had to be answered.  

“The idea for the concert is to build a baseline level for living in discomfort and part of the discomfort is that when you encounter African American music, which is ubiquitous, we hear it every day,” he said. “But when you encounter it and you’re asked to perform it and sing it … all kinds of ideas come up like, ‘Am I allowed to sing this?’, ‘What are people going to think?’, ‘Am I appropriating this music?’ and these are the right questions to ask because they start to guide us towards a more thoughtful position where we can understand where the music comes from and perform it in such a way as to be informed by it.”

Demet echoed this sentiment.

“We tried to give the music our full respect and show through the way we performed it,” he said. “We don’t want to act like we’re the creators of this message, but be stewards of it.”

Both Demet and Wright discussed the issues of performing African American sacred music with a group of predominantly white students at a predominantly white school.  

“When we sing this music and we look at the people around us we realize that Notre Dame is a place that is predominantly white,” he said. “I think that, especially in the Basilica, most of the music that we do is Western European. By opening the door and welcoming this type of music into the Basilica, I think is a first step towards creating a more inclusive environment for African Americans in our life of faith on campus.”

After the concert Friday, the Folk Choir will then prepare for their journey to East Africa.  Every year the Folk Choir goes on a tour after graduation. Last year, they toured in Texas and performed at various churches, universities and even a hospital.  However, for the 25th anniversary of the Concert for the Missions, the group wanted to do something bigger.

“It’s not going to be a traditional tour … In fact we’re trying not to call it a tour … I think we’re trying to call it a pilgrimage,” Demet said.

The group will be traveling to three East African countries: Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania where they will visit Holy Cross mission sites, get involved in the communities and perform. The group is also taking a one credit class to prepare for the trip which brings speakers in so that way students can learn about the history and culture of the countries they will be visiting.

“Traveling to Africa is really hard,” Wright said. ”It’s a fun thing to be able to do. It’s a great prospect … But the reality of the trip is that you get there and the standard of living is totally different.  You go from being a majority culture to a minority culture instantly. The whole idea around pilgrimage is that we want to take a journey and discover where God is calling us to be.”

While in Africa, the Folk Choir will be visiting health centers in Kenya and mission sites in Uganda — including the cities of Kampala, Fort Portal and Jinja. They will also give several concerts.

Demet said while in Africa, the Folk Choir also hopes to “learn music in the actual East African traditions.”

The Folk Choir will then perform these songs at the Concert for the Missions next year, Demet said.

“We are saving that for when we get back,” he said. “So this year we’re not trying to have a showcase of that mission per say.”

The Folk Choir also regularly sings at 11:45 a.m. Mass at the Basilica.  The group consists of 65 students of all different majors and of which all but two are undergraduates.  

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