Allied with the Alliance: Deep South Tour
Immediately following Hurricane Katrina in August 2006, we saw a concentrated effort across the country to relieve the suffering in the affected area. As happens so often, however, national attention only lasted for a limited period of time. Real suffering still remains as the rebuilding continues. With this in mind, the Notre Dame Folk Choir set off on its ten-day tour of the South to raise money for two ACE schools that are still in need of assistance.
The Alliance for Catholic Education, or ACE, is a program in which recent graduates volunteer to teach in Catholic grade or high schools for two years while taking classes towards a Master of Education at Notre Dame. Two of the schools affiliated with this program were affected severely by Hurricane Katrina—one even moved classes to a skating rink during its first phase of rebuilding.
This Folk Choir tour differed from most in many ways. First, it took place at the end of the students' Christmas break rather than at the beginning of summer. It was also the first time the choir has had one organization as the target of all funds raised. Usually, the choir lets each individual host parish decide where the money will go. This different procedure led to a new sense of a unified tour and a new sense of purpose. Fifth-year senior Joe Nava speaks to this difference from past tour experiences: "When I'm on tour, I get really excited to sing for those parish communities who have never heard us before, who have no idea what to expect from us. They expect a performance but don't realize that we're there to pray with them through song. But with the ACE tour, it was more about wowing our audiences through our ministry. For every concert, we were raising money for the same cause, and it was quite humbling to witness how giving the communities were and how much they supported us in our mission."
After spending the first two and a half weeks of Christmas break with our families, choir members returned to the Notre Dame campus on January 3incidentally, the day of Notre Dame's bowl game, which incidentally took place in New Orleans, where residents are also coping with damage from Hurricane Katrina. We met in our usual rehearsal space in the Coleman-Morse Center for a short run-through of some of the tour repertoire, then proceeded to the lounge downstairs to watch the game. We'll not talk about the results of that but instead just say that it was good to again be in each other's company. Not yet allowed in our dorms, we spent the night scattered around the greater South Bend-Mishawaka area, in the homes of any and all choir members with a house.
We arrived early the next morning to load the bus and be on our way. Drums, instruments, music stands, sound equipment, boxes of programs, CD's to sell, choir folders, all had to be packed up, and choir members eagerly helped with all of it. Soon the bus was ready, and with blessings from Fr. Warner in Campus Ministry and Karen Schneider-Kirner, who could not accompany us on this tour (in any sense of the word), we set off.
Our first day saw an eight-hour drive from Notre Dame to Nashville, Tennessee. We were greeted there by St. Henry Parish, which was excited to share their new parish centerand we were quick to try out the dance floor. I believe I speak for all the women when I say that we were also very grateful for the size of the bride's room, where we prepared for the concert. In Nashville, we also met up with nearly a dozen choir members who had been at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. The parish welcomed us to the South with a barbecue dinner. Our concert went off with maybe a few of your typical we've-only-rehearsed-half-the-music-and-some-of-our-choir-members-just-got-here hitches, but we were well received. Our host families got us well-rested and well-fed and ready for another long drive.
In the middle of the concert, Amy Seamon, a Folk Choir and ACE alum who now works in the ACE office on the Notre Dame campus, spoke briefly about ACE and the schools in need. She joined us for the first half of the tour as the face of ACE and was replaced by Matt Kloser, another ACE alum and worker, on the second half.
We met back at St. Henry the next morning and reloaded the bus for a seven-hour drive to Mobile, Alabama. There we were greeted by Dr. Dick Duffey, president of the Notre Dame Club of Mobile and father of Patrick Duffey, a freshman in the choir. The Duffey family opened its home to us for a wonderful "Taste of the South" meal. We gathered in prayer around several huge tables full of gumbo, more barbecue, cheese grits, and so on. And on. And on. More than satisfied, we proceeded to the chapel at Spring Hill College for our concert. The concert was followed by a dessert reception, where we met with our host families, who again saw that we were well-rested and fed.
We met early in the morning at the Duffeys' to load up the bus again and drive for about eight hours to Tampa. We made it there and the January warmth immediately lifted our spirits. Though it had been a long first three days in the bus, we were excited at the prospect of staying in one home for three nights. This excitement, couple with the thrill of finally being off the bus, caused an impromptu hoedown in the parish hall at Holy Family while our dinner was being prepared by the Knights of Columbus. Senior Jack Calcutt provided music on the small organ in the hall, and we danced. We followed this with another concert for an enthusiastic audience and met with our Tampa host families, the only host families we'd stay with for more than one night.
The next day, Sunday, was a liturgical marathon. Mass at Holy Family in the morning would be followed later by Mass and a concert at the Cathedral of St. Jude. In between, though, we were hosted for brunch at the home of Vince Naimoli, owner of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Gorgeous weather, beautiful backyard, and Sunday best combined for perhaps the best photo opportunity of the tour. Our concert that night was an acoustical challenge, but our warm welcome by Archbishop Lynch of St. Petersburg more than made up for it.
The next day was a free day. Wait, free day? What's that? Well, in this case it involved running the option, with each of us choosing to spend the day either at Busch Gardens or at the beach. At the end of the day, we came together again to watch the BCS Championship game at a local high school at which ACE teachers serve.
We got to sleep in a bit the next day, as we had just a four-hour drive to Jacksonville, Florida. We had time, too, for some free time on the beach there before heading to Resurrection Parish for another dinner-concert-host families combo.
The next day was another short drivejust two hours to Savannah, Georgia. We were hosted for lunch by the family of senior Meg Auer, who has also served as our amazing tour coordinator for the last two years. There, we gathered around the piano for an impromptu jam session that included guitar, bodhrán, and cello. Some of us also headed outside for a football game with Meg's younger siblings. We then drove to downtown Savannah to explore this beautiful, historic citythe goal of General Sherman's March to the Sea, but one of the few areas left undamaged by that slash-and-burn campaign. Choir members found churches, bookstores, and the site of the filming of the bus scenes in Forrest Gump. Again, photo opportunitysome of us even stepped into a small store to purchase a box of chocolates to go with the benches in the square. Dinner and concert at St. James Parish followed by another round of great host families.
The next day was a double-header: one four-hour drive to Mepkin Abbey in South Carolina was followed by another to Charlotte, North Carolina. We were greeted at Mepkin by Steve's son Br. Dismas, who is a novice at this Trappist monastery. We sang at midday prayer with the monks and their guests, then were treated to a wonderful, all-natural, mostly home-grown lunch. We had a short while to tour the grounds of the Abbey before getting back on the bus and heading to Charlotte, where had dinner, sang a concert, and were fed and rested by host families.
The next morning, we made another four-hour drive to Alpharetta, Georgia, just outside Atlanta. We had a free afternoon at the Mall of Georgia, where some choir members saw movies and others just strolled the huge shopping complex. On to St. Brigid parish, where we sang with a large congregation.
The next morning we girded our loins for our longest bus rideten hours from Alpharetta to Columbus, Ohio. Time on the bus always sees choir members reading, knitting, napping, and constantly socializing and getting to know one another better. On our longer bus rides, we add movies shown on screens throughout the bus. Senior Blair Mancini coordinated the movie picks for this tour, and selections ranged from Space Jam starring Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny to the classic Gone With the Wind in honor of senior Katie Scarlett O'Hara's 22nd birthday.
The Church of the Resurrection in Columbus greeted us enthusiastically. The parishioners there are familiar with much of the Folk Choir's repertoire, and the congregation participated, as we would say in the Basilica, with full heart and voice. The concert was signed for the hearing impaired, and Folk Choir senior Matt Hughes signed our last piece, "Jina la Bwana." One more dessert reception later, and we were in the homes of our final host families for bed and breakfast. We returned to the parish in the morning for Mass, where we joined with all the parish choirs, including a full contingent of brass and percussion. Brunch, final good-byes, and we hit the road one last time.
Pulling up to the University caused all of us on the bus to join in singing the Alma Mater. We unpacked the bus, and our mission was through. Our roommates were moving back in that day. Classes would start two days later. As with most things, though, the end of this journey was the beginning of something else. Sophomore Susan Bigelow, the newest choir member at the time of tour, had this to say: "I joined choir two weeks before break, so the ACE tour wasn't just my first Folk Choir tour. It was my first Folk Choir, well, everything. I understood for the first time what we mean when we talk about 'music ministry.' I feel so blessed that my first real Folk Choir event consisted of spending eleven days on a bus with people who would quickly became like a family to me, all united in the joy of using song not only to raise money for ACE but to raise the collective hearts of communities across the South."
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