By Trish Linner
NOTRE DAME — Sunday, Dec. 14, marked the second annual Christmas concert performed by the Notre Dame Children’s Choir at the Church of Our Lady of Loretto on the campus of Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame. The choir was formed in the fall of last year.
According to Mark Doerries, the artistic director and conductor of the Chamber Choir, the choir was formed to “engage young singers with the powerful and often forgotten heritage of sacred music of the Christian church.”
The choir is a part of the larger organization of Sacred Music at Notre Dame, with the cooperation of The University of Notre Dame. The goal, said Doerries, is to “specialize in the training of conductors, singers and organists at the graduate level to become future Church music leaders and professional musicians. Between the Notre Dame Children’s Choir and Sacred Music at Notre Dame we educate musicians through the entire age range from 5-35.”
The choir was conceived as a 20-voice ensemble. While Doerries serves as the artistic director, his wife Hillary serves as the accompanist and administrator of the program. During the summer of 2013, the Doerries visited local churches, schools and community centers introducing the choir concept and gaining support for the program.
“The Catholic parishes and schools of South Bend were particularly generous in lending their support of the program,” Doerries said. “Many graciously established connections with us as an after-school music program.”
The first round of auditions gave the new program 55 singers. As word spread throughout the community about the program, they have continued to grow. This fall the auditions led to an enrollment of 135 singers.
“We have grown from two choirs and four staff members to five choirs and 13 conductors, drivers, vocal coaches, music educators and administrators,” Doerries said. “We also have a host of clergy who regularly lead the choirs in prayer. We are blessed and believe that our growth is a reflection of the importance of our work to empower singers through meaningful encounters with sacred music.”
In addition to performing a wide variety of music from Gregorian Chant, to spirituals, the cantatas of J.S. Bach, and the music of Benjamin Britten, Mozart and contemporary rock and folk artists, the choir seeks to educate the whole child through musical, spiritual and social means. The choir seeks to combine sacred music traditions from many Christian faiths. They hold prayer services, vespers, lessons and carols, and evensong services.
“We believe that connecting children to sacred music at an early age creates lifelong engagement with the Church and the art music of our concert halls. Sacred music connects singers to the theological roots of the Church and to western classical music; to lose this music is to forget our spiritual history, culture and ancestors,” noted Doerries.
The Notre Dame Children’s Choir unites singers from across the Michiana community from a wide variety of Catholic and Protestant faiths, rich and financially insecure households, as well as African American, Hispanic and immigrant backgrounds. It has had a profound effect on the students who are involved in the program.
“There are many things I like about the choir,” said singer Lydia Potter, eighth grader at Mishawaka Catholic. “I have sung many songs in different languages and from different cultures. I have also met some of my best friends since the choir began.”
“Since joining the choir,” she added, “I have seen myself grow as a singer. I have been taught to read more parts of the music, how to project, and to sing a part of a large ensemble. All the directors are so nice and want you to learn and have fun. I’m very glad I joined and I hope we get even more members.”
Parents are just as impressed. “Lydia has been part of the choir since the beginning,” said Amy Potter. “I love the fact that this group of talented children can come together from all walks of life and create such beautiful music. Lydia has been challenged vocally and has been given wonderful opportunities to share her talent with others in addition to her learning from others with more experience that share her love of singing. That being said, the community that has grown out of this shared musical endeavor is a very special one indeed.”
Rita Lyden, who has two singers — Seamus and Lilia — in the choir, also spoke highly of the program.
“Lilia joined first and just loved it so much, she inspired her brother to join,” she said. “They both have so much fun. They have both been practicing together for the Christmas concert, but they tried to keep some of the songs secret from us so we would be surprised.”
“It’s a commitment with two practices a week,” Lyden noted, “but the directors go out of their way to make it special for the kids and they get social time as well as learning time.”
The program is not only a benefit to the local community. The Notre Dame Children’s Choir places Notre Dame graduate students in conducting, voice and organ programs into the classrooms as choir directors.
Through courses in children’s choral methods at Notre Dame and the experience of teaching the choir singers in the classroom, the graduate students are being trained to enter their parish and regional communities upon graduation and to establish sacred music children’s choirs with similar missions to the Notre Dame Children’s Choir.
In the past year, the Notre Dame Children’s Choir has established an annual performance at an outdoor concert at the South Bend Farmer’s Market in early October, an annual community wide children’s choir festival in May, and their annual Christmas concert on the campus of Saint Mary’s College.
Composer Ruth Boshkoff enhanced this year’s Christmas concert by a song written especially for the middle school Chamber Choir. A nationally recognized composer and music educator, Boshkoff was on hand to hear the children sing the song she composed for them.
“The song took me most of the summer to write,” said Boshkoff smiling. “I wanted it to be different. I kept thinking about the whole Christmas story, the journey, the Wise Men and the three Kings. The children sang it beautifully. One mother came up to me and told me that her son sings this song all the time, all around the house practicing. That’s the thing I most like to hear, when the children love to sing what I have written.”
The Christmas concert this year drew over 400 family members, friends, students from Saint Mary’s College and Notre Dame, the sisters from the college, as well as members of the Michiana community.
For more information about the Notre Dame Children’s Choir, visit their website at www.ndcchoir.org or email at [email protected].
The best news. Delivered to your inbox.
Subscribe to our mailing list today.