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Sunday, May 26, 2024
The Observer

Notre Dame student choirs gear up for noisy year

After over a year disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Notre Dame’s many choirs are excited to get back to normal performances.

To learn more about how some of the choirs on campus dealt with the pandemic and what they’re planning for the new year, the Observer spoke with Frank Gomulka, president of the Notre Dame Glee Club; Maggie Laurence, president of the Notre Dame Liturgical Choir; Julia McKenna, vice president of Voices of Faith Gospel Choir; and Kinsey Nally, newsletter editor for the Notre Dame Chorale

Getting through the pandemic

Liturgical Choir at the beginning of last fall.

Choirs at Notre Dame and across the world were hit particularly hard by pandemic-induced restrictions, as singing has been found to expel aerosols in larger quantities and more aggressively than many other activities. Campus choir leaders had to quickly find new ways to boost morale and make music.

“Glee Club got creative with our virtual personality once COVID hit,” Gomulka said.

The club used social media to lift spirits and retain visibility during the pandemic, including posting music videos. They hosted auditions virtually in 2020 and in a hybrid form in 2021 to ensure that membership numbers remained stable.

For Laurence and the Liturgical Choir, a renewed sense of purpose helped weather the pandemic. When the choir could no longer sing at Sunday Mass in the Basilica as before, their identity as a service to the church had to adapt to “recognizing that we could still be a good” for the community, Laurence said. Their motto for the year was “Minor Setback, Major Comeback,” in anticipation of a brighter future.

“We come together because we love this music, but it’s a lot more than that,” Laurence said. “It’s very much a family. Even if we weren’t able to do the things we do, we were able to be together.”

Chorale also “got a little bit creative,” Nally said, with modified rehearsal policies, an outdoor concert and formal and many outdoor dinners. Nally almost enjoyed that outdoor concert more than pre-COVID concerts.

“The sun was shining and birds were chirping,” Nally said.

Likewise, Voices of Faith “tried to keep some sense of community,” McKenna said, focusing on community in part by keeping a similar schedule to previous years — albeit outside and masked.

One of the biggest obstacles for Notre Dame choirs was the winter weather. Choral groups around the world were discouraged from singing indoors because of singing’s elevated risk of spreading COVID-19. At Notre Dame, this meant that choirs practiced outside, even in the notoriously cold South Bend winter. However, Gomulka said, “most of us preferred this to not singing at all.” 

Chorale sometimes practiced inside — masked and socially distanced — during the coldest times of the year, but Nally explained this actually made learning music more difficult, as singers couldn’t hear each other well.

However, choir members expressed gratitude that these limited rehearsals and performances were even possible.

“We knew we were really lucky to be continuing to sing because a lot of schools didn’t have choirs,” McKenna said.

Voices of Faith Gospel Choir at an outdoor gathering last year.

Lingering precautions

While the University doesn’t require masks for vaccinated students, faculty and staff in most spaces, Notre Dame choirs have determined their own level of comfort with the new policies.

Glee Club has decided to wear masks while actively singing indoors, at least for now, Gomulka said.

“We want to take as many precautions as possible while we ease back into our club’s normalcy,” Gomulka said, noting the spread of the delta variant. Chorale also remains masked for now, but they are able to return to their normal practice space.

In accordance with University policies, Liturgical Choir currently doesn’t wear masks while rehearsing or performing. Neither does Voices of Faith, although McKenna noted that this changes in different performance spaces, such as DPAC, which requires masks indoors.

Return to a regular schedule

Although the semester is barely one week old, Notre Dame choirs have already jumped eagerly into a full schedule of rehearsals and events.

The Glee Club performed at the grand opening of the Trader Joe’s on Eddy Street and will also perform at several outreach concerts in the community as the year progresses. The group is excited for the hustle and bustle of football Saturdays when they perform a fun repertoire to “channel the crowd’s passionate energy into support for the Fighting Irish,” Gomulka said.

Liturgical Choir sang at the final vows for the Congregation of the Holy Cross in August and will resume singing in the loft of the Basilica at 10 a.m. Sunday Masses.

“It’s such a beautiful feeling to be able to sing with and for the congregation and pray with them through music,” Laurence said.

Chorale hosted a new member welcome picnic Saturday and had its first rehearsal Monday. Nally is excited for the fall concert and the group's annual performance of Handel’s Messiah, which was canceled last year.

Voices of Faith is “hoping to do some community engagement in South Bend and with local Black churches,” McKenna said, building on past collaborations on music videos and concerts. They have already performed at Feed Your Faith and Art Attack at the beginning of this semester.

In addition to local performances and services, many Notre Dame choirs go on tours throughout the year, both domestically and abroad. These trips were curtailed by the pandemic over the last 18 months, but choirs are hoping to resume their travels soon.

The Glee Club is planning a fall tour to the Northeast, a spring tour to the Pacific Northwest and a post-commencement tour to Puerto Rico and Mexico. Chorale intends to travel to the Northeast in January and to Spain and Portugal after commencement. Liturgical Choir hopes to finally undertake its spring tour to Atlanta, originally planned for 2020.

Optimism for the upcoming year

Post-Lit Choir rehearsal dinner, back in South Dining Hall for the first time since March 2020 (courtesy of Maggie Laurence)
Post-Lit Choir rehearsal dinner, back in South Dining Hall for the first time since March 2020.

The choir leaders all expressed their excitement for a new season filled with activities and performances. Nobody is taking these experiences for granted anymore.

“We are incredibly grateful to be back singing,” Gomulka said.

At a recent 3.5-hour music rehearsal retreat, “most of the club was happily in attendance.”

Laurence described a feeling of anticipation among both new and returning members of the group.

“We’re so excited to be able to do these things we love so much,” Laurence said. 

McKenna said gospel music is all about bringing joy, which bringing people together can accomplish.

Nally said Chorale is ready to perform this year.

“Not to brag or anything, but we’re going to sound really good,” Nally said with a smile.