Notre Dame Folk Choir creates music and encourages faith-filled dialogue
Genevieve Redsten | Wednesday, February 12, 2020
Senior Loyal Murphy has spent nearly four years in Notre Dame’s Folk Choir, and now serves as the choir’s president despite having unintentionally joined the group at the beginning of his freshman year. He wasn’t looking to join Folk Choir at all, and in fact meant to audition for Liturgical Choir, but accidentally attended Folk Choir auditions instead.
Now, Murphy says he has no regrets.
“It’s probably one of the best mistakes that’s ever happened to me,” he said.
Murphy is one of 60 members of the Notre Dame Folk Choir, a liturgical choir that performs in the Basilica during 11:45 Mass every Sunday. The choir’s distinct combination of instruments and vocalists, Murphy said, creates a modern sound that resonates with its church audiences.
“I think a lot of times people are turned off by the music at Masses, and just church services in general, because they can’t relate to it, or there’s nothing that really draws them to participate in the music,” Murphy said. “What Folk Choir tries to do is bring in music that’s got a more vibrant energy — a sound that more people can relate to.”
Sophomore Uyen Le still remembers the first time she heard Notre Dame’s Folk Choir. It was the summer before her freshman year of college, and the choir performed at her local parish as part of its Texas tour. Folk Choir’s energy and sounds drew her in, and she decided to audition when she arrived on campus as a first-year student.
“I really liked that they performed a lot of songs that I had already heard of [after] going to Mass all my life,” Le said. “They were well-known songs, but they added a different take. It made me feel so good inside. And I wanted to make that music with them.”
Beyond its distinct sound, Murphy said the choir’s traditions and strong community set it apart from other choirs. Members eat brunch together most Sundays before Mass. Every Halloween, the different grades have a dress-up competition, with themes ranging from “Toy Story” to “Stranger Things.”
“The reason why I love Folk Choir so much is how dedicated we are to community,” Le said. “It sounds strange that I could be so close with these people, but I honestly feel like I could come to any of them for anything.”
Folk Choir director J.J. Wright said the choir’s tight-knit community is also strengthened by its routine dialogue and reflection. Every week, the members of Folk Choir take turns reflecting on the Gospel for that week’s Sunday Mass.
In that setting, Wright maintained, students are speaking to each other in their own language and understanding the Gospel through their personal experiences.
“Very often the concerns are deeply rooted in student life,” Wright said. “It’s like, ‘Midterms are coming up this week, what does the Gospel have to do with that?’ Or we just had a student who passed away in the choir, and that’s been heavy on everyone’s hearts, so that’s been very much a part of our shared life of prayer.”
The choir’s reflective dialogue, he noted, extends beyond its discussion of the Gospel. Last year, as the choir prepared for its summer tour of east Africa, Wright said members were also grappling with issues of race, joining the University’s larger dialogue about diversity and inclusion. Le said those conversations deepened her appreciation of the trip’s cross-cultural exchange.
“We undertook this whole process of figuring out what it means to sing African American sacred music at Notre Dame with a choir that doesn’t have any African American students and very few students of color,” Wright said. “I think those are the types of conversations that we need to be having as a community because it really does put the impetus on us to take responsibility for how we create an environment that is actually diverse and inclusive.”
Murphy, who is a Methodist, said he’s learned a great deal from his experiences and conversations with fellow Folk Choir members. Attending weekly Mass and making music with other students of faith has created opportunities for personal and spiritual growth, he said.
“There’s something about making music with a group of people who all believe in the power that music can hold that makes it so special,” Murphy said. “Certainly, I think my faith is strengthened throughout my four years with Folk Choir, simply because we’ve had that ability to make music together.”