Tale of a Tour

Steven C. Warner, DirectorMore than a year and a half ago, we began laying the foundations for what this year's Choir, simply and affectionately, labeled "TOUR!" But there was hardly anything simple about it… This extraordinary set of travels, quite honestly, changed the way the Folk Choir will do their pilgrimages in future years.

Our plans evolved as a charitable response to Hurricane Katrina. There has always been a close affinity between Notre Dame's ACE community and the Folk Choir—more than a dozen members of the choir have gone on to teach in this prestigious program, and the Summer Folk Choir, in large part peopled by the Alliance, has become its own vital ensemble. But when Katrina hit, and took two ACE schools off the map, members of the Choir began plotting a way to raise money for these institutions.

Most of you know that our traditional touring times cover the days immediately following graduation (and we'll do that, too, this May, traveling to the Twin Cities for the first time). But January was a special trip. We targeted cities that had a high-profile commitment to ACE, and though they were far-flung, we had tremendous hospitality and record turnout everywhere we went.

The roll call of cities represented a large sweep of the South: Nashville, Mobile, Tampa, St. Petersburg, Jacksonville, Savannah, Mepkin Abbey, Charlotte, Alpharetta—and Columbus, Ohio thrown in to boot!

The memories were vivid and humbling! Former choir member Natalie Martinez, bringing along her Dominican sisters to our first concert in Nashville; a "Desserts of the South" reception hosted by the Duffey family at Spring Hill College in Mobile; Bishop Lynch's overwhelming donation of ten thousand dollars to our cause while in the Diocese of St. Petersburg; soaking up the quiet of Mepkin Abbey with the Trappist monks, en route to Charlotte. And etched into our memories beyond anything this small epistle can capture—the moment at the outset of our Columbus concert, when the entire assembly, more than one thousand strong, rose to their feet, hand in hand, and led us in the "Lord's Prayer."

The difference, though, was made manifest day by day, as we would sleepily straggle onto the bus, knowing that in several hours we would know the news of the donations from the night before. In all my years of touring, we had never dedicated an entire tour to one, single charitable cause. When approached by my CM and ACE colleagues, wondering how much we might raise, I ventured a tentative "… maybe, with luck, we'll pull in about twenty-five thousand dollars…"

We hit that figure after day four. And that's when things started to get exciting. All of us began to realize that something amazing, something deeply sacramental, was taking place on this trip, more tangible perhaps than all the other journeys we've completed. As we were heading out of St. Petersburg, Folk Choir alum and ACE staffer Amy Seamon, who had made the trip with us as a liaison (along with colleague Matt Kloser), exclaimed, "I can't even describe what is happening here to my staff back at Notre Dame!"

By the time it was all done, the choir had raised somewhere in the vicinity of fifty-five thousand dollars (the donations are still coming in). In eleven days, the Folk Choir traveled more than three thousand, six hundred miles. Thousands had heard the ensemble. And most important, people in faith communities throughout the South became more aware of the wonderful work of the ACE program and its scholastic contributions of more than a decade.

By way of a ceremonial check, a donation was handed over—with great joy and revelry!—to the Alliance for Catholic Education at a special gathering in late January. Dr. Tom Doyle, Amy Seamon, Matt Kloser, and all the Folk Choir had a wonderful meal and reception, and Folk Choir president Andy Lawton handed over the check amidst much thanksgiving.

So—when all was over and the music sorted out, when all the initial donations were tallied, and when I got past my bus-induced vertigo—the question to face was: "What does all this mean for future travels?"

Regarding any of our international tours, those trips have their own focus and agenda. Considering the largely deplorable state of young adult involvement in church-centered experiences in Ireland, Scotland and England (the Folk Choir will be visiting the first two in May of 2008), our goal is to continue to model a kind of exuberance and reverence that will make for a tangible invitation to the present generation. But for travels back in the States, this recent trip makes me believe that pilgrimages with a single, focused, deliberate charity has much to offer. It was great for the ensemble to see, day after day, what their efforts would yield. And to celebrate those efforts at the end of the tour.

To all of our friends and supporters, to our alums whose song built the foundation for what we now share, a blessed Eastertide to you! Keep us in prayer, and know that we will do the same for all of you!

With best regards,