December 3, 2015

 

 

Wake the world with song

Concert is a celebration of religious life

BY TONI CASHNELLI

Above, Fred Link leads singers through a rehearsal at St. Clement; left, Sr. Barb Piller, OSF, accompanies them on the flute.PHOTOS BY FRANK JASPER, OFMOn a dreary Sunday when most of us would rather be napping, about 80 people are gathered at St. Clement Church for a choir rehearsal.

Pastor Fred Link, the man behind the music stand in front of them, knows they could have easily skipped this practice. “This is a tremendous turnout,” he says. “I thank you for your faithfulness.” In order to be here, “I realize you are sacrificing the Bengals” in the midst of a winning season.

Everyone knows this time is precious. In six weeks, the group will perform at St. Peter in Chains Cathedral. Today, they are learning to blend their voices. And who better to lead them than Fr. Fred, the friar who made Bishop Luers High School a magnet for choir competition during his days as band and choral director in the 1970s.

It’s the second full rehearsal for “Wake Up the World!” a concert to celebrate the Year of Consecrated Life.  More than 120 members of 16 religious communities in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati – including 21 friars – have donated their time and talent to the event, named for the apostolic letter in which Pope Francis sought to affirm and energize men and women in religious life.

Most of the year’s other activities – prayer services, seminars, open houses – are educational, informative. This hour-long concert is meant to inspire, to stir the soul, to communicate the joy of devoting one’s life to the Lord.

It’s Fred’s job to pull this together. And he’s loving every minute of it.

Getting started

Above, Pat McCloskey, first row, and Don Miller, second row, are in the choir; left, Fred with Warren Zeisler; below, Sisters reconnect before the rehearsal.Left, Sr. Alice O’Neill, SC,accompanies on the cello.He surveys his choir, spread out over 14 rows, and asks, “Who here can stand for the hour concert?” With so many gray heads in the group, it’s a fair question. Fortunately, raised hands are in the majority. For even spry retirees like Fr. Warren Zeisler, 91, standing and singing for this long might be difficult. Somehow this logistical challenge will be resolved before the choir assembles at the Cathedral on Jan. 17.

Right now it’s time to warm up. “Let’s start with Salve Regina,” Fred says. Singers raise black binders to focus on the Gregorian chant, one of 14 pieces in a program that includes both traditional and contemporary works. “Eyes up here,” Fred instructs. “You don’t need words for that.”

Directing expansively and mouthing the words, he jabs a finger to emphasize a note or a phrase and pauses for minor corrections. “Make it your purpose to hear each other. If you can’t hear each other, you’re likely singing too loud.” Moving on to Panis Angelicus he starts, stops, and smiles at the men. “Basses, did you get that G-sharp?” and without missing a beat, adds, “I didn’t think so.”

He quickly reassures them: “It’s early yet.”

Follow the leader

Although it is indeed early, the sound produced by the conglomerate choir is surprisingly sweet and full.

Pleased with what he hears, Fred works each section of singers through rough spots, pausing for an occasional vocal exercise such as, “Zah-zee-zah-zee-zah-zee-zah-zee, zah, zah, zah.” He tweaks phrasing with humor: “Get rid of the ‘R’. It’s an awful consonant to sing. In country-western they get right to the R’s. This isn’t country-western.”

The attentive singers and musicians, invested in doing a good job, take Fred’s direction seriously. “The attitude of these folks has been really, really outstanding,” he says. For brothers, sisters and priests, it’s a chance to do something they love, something for themselves. To them, songs of praise and thanksgiving are more than notes on a line, words on a page.

When their director urges, “Open up your mouth; if you don’t open up your mouth, no sound will come out,” they obligingly drop their jaws. Choir members know that singing is easy, but singing well takes effort.

“Let’s look at Sine Nomine [“For all the Saints….”],” Fred says. “On Verse Three there is a first soprano descant that is just glorious. Don’t sing if you can’t reach the high notes. Just keep mouthing the words. Let’s make this beautiful for all the saints.”

Course corrections

Throughout the rehearsal, he is generous with his praise:

“I can hear that soaring through the cathedral”;

“You’re doing this with marvelous clarity.”

And supportive in critiques:

“You have a lovely tone when you come in together”;

“You compensated even though you got the words wrong”;

“I know you’re gonna get it. You’re very close.”

A highlight of this rehearsal is sure to be a highlight of the program. Wake the World with Dawning Joy is a rousing anthem composed by Steven C. Warner and commissioned for the Year of Consecrated Life by the editors of VISION Vocation Guide and the National Religious Vocation Conference.

“This is just a lovely piece of music,” Fred says. “You know the text of this is based on the Holy Father’s Apostolic Letter.” After the choir delivers a stirring rendition, he says, “Thank you,” and predicts, “Not a dry eye in the house” when it is performed.

Even for a group this dedicated, two hours is a lot to ask. Sensing they are weary, Fred reminds them about the next full rehearsal on Sunday, Dec. 20.  “I know it’s a tremendously busy time. For those of you who can make it, it’s important that we meet. I know you want this to be as perfect as it can be.”

Later he admits, “I’ve enjoyed myself because I see them enjoying themselves. Maybe we could come back for the 150th anniversary of something-or-other.

“I hate to see this choir end.”

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The response was ‘awesome’

“This is considerably different than working with high school kids,” Fr. Fred Link says of preparing more than 120 women and men religious for “Wake Up the World! A Concert Celebrating the Year of Consecrated Life.”

To organize the program, veteran choir director Fred met with 10 members of a committee organized by Sr. Marilyn Kerber, SNDdeN, Director of the Office of Religious for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. When they put out a call for singers and accompanists, “People were responding, and I thought it would be awesome to get to 100” participants, Fred says. “As it is, we’ve got almost 125 folks. Having heard them from my perspective, I think people are going to be inspired.”

He found 20 of his own brothers willing to help. “I’m humbled by the turnout and energy of the friars,” he says. Secretary Fr. Dan Anderson, part of a logistics committee, is writing a narrative for the program. Br. Gabriel Balassone was asked to sing Ave Maria. Br. Gene Mayer is coordinating refreshments.

The free concert is at 3 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 17, at St. Peter in Chains Cathedral, 325 W. 8th St. in downtown Cincinnati. Attendees are invited to a reception in the undercroft, where local religious communities will be mounting exhibits.

Above, Joe Hund blesses the gazebo at St. Paul the Apostle; below, spuds from the garden.

Below, Joe Rigali preaching in New Orleans.

  • Thanksgiving in shirtsleeves: The temperature was about 80 degrees when Louisiana friars gathered in Lafayette last week for a celebratory meal. Fr. Joe Hund blessed the new gazebo constructed by Br. Juniper Crouch and prepared the preprandium. Among the traditional menu items were sweet potatoes like these two immense specimens harvested from the garden of St. Paul the Apostle Friary.
  • “Well, I made it!”  missionary Tim Lamb wrote this week after landing in Kenya. “The trip was smooth (two-hour flight to Amsterdam from Rome and eight- hour flight to Nairobi) and I was greeted at the airport by Carmello, who is the Provincial Minister.  The weather here is pleasant and all is well with me.” Side note: “There are monkeys that visit the back yard! They eat our mangoes.” For contact purposes, he reminds us that Nairobi is eight hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time. Watch Tim’s blog for updates: omnesdonumest.blogspot
  • Better than paper: Fr. Greg Friedman is one of the contributors to this online Franciscan Advent calendar created for the Monastery of the Holy Land:  http://www.myfranciscan.org/advent/.
  • “He was a kind, generous friar,” wrote Fr. John Joseph Gonchar, responding to news of the death of Fr. Joe Rigali. J.J. and Joe were contemporaries at the missions in Jamaica. “May he rest in eternal peace!” Fr. Robert Seay traces his friendship with Joe to their home parish, St. John the Apostle in Lima, Ohio. “We had a close relationship for years,” Robert says. “It was at his ordination that I got to know the Franciscans. What happened was, Joe’s mother needed a statue of St. Francis for a table decoration for the reception after his first Mass. I had one in my mother’s garden” and was able to share it. “I began to talk to him. Fr. Joe was very impressive; I was impressed by his style of preaching. I had been accepted to the Glenmarys, then changed my mind and came to the Franciscans. I told him he really is the person who brought me to the Franciscans. I learned a lot from him.” Through the years whenever they got together, “We would always talk about our home town.” The Mass of Christian Burial for Joe is at 11 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 5, at Little Sisters (Archbishop Leibold Home in Cincinnati), preceded by the reception at 9:30 a.m. Interment is at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 9, at St. Mary Cemetery.
  • From the Order’s website: Ministers General of the First Order are planning to establish a single Pontifical Franciscan University in Rome. “At a time of division and fragmentation in our world, we have been listening to the Spirit who invites us to witness to our common identity as sons of St. Francis, heirs of the Gospel life which he founded and experienced so deeply in his own life,” they wrote in a letter announcing the decision (http://www.ofm.org/ofm/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Lettera-English.pdf).  They hope that “an incremental process” will lead to the establishment of this new academic entity by Easter 2018.
  • An Advent tradition: St. Anthony Friary is hosting the annual “Lessons and Carols” presentation at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 13, in Cincinnati. “The choir and the Scripture readings will remind us of the meaning of the Advent Season and help us prepare for Christmas,” writes Guardian Carl Langenderfer. “The celebration will be followed by light refreshments in the friars’ dining room. All are invited.”
  • Touching and beautiful: For an evocative look at the Pope’s time in Africa, follow this link to a photo gallery of his visit to a children’s hospital in Bangui, Central African Republic: Famigliacristiana. According to Radio Vaticana, “He brought medical supplies from the Vatican-owned Bambino Gesu Hospital.”
  • The Planeteers of Roger Bacon High School are sponsoring a shoe drive through Dec. 17 to benefit those less fortunate in 127 countries. According to RB’s Facebook page, “We’re collecting any shoes in any condition to donate primarily to ‘Soles4Souls’. Students, parents, faculty, alumni, and friends are invited to bring in various types of footwear and deposit them into blue donation boxes placed around the school. The only condition is that they must be bound together.” Drop shoes off in the main lobby or at any home basketball game. “Help us meet our goal of 500 pairs and make this the best Christmas these souls have ever had!”

John Boissy

Jonathon Douglas

Tom Murphy

Carlo Shivel

  • Congratulations to SJB Novices John Boissy, Jonathon Douglas, Tom Murphy and Carlo Shivel. Provincial Minister Jeff Scheeler will be there Sunday when they receive their habits at St. Francis Interprovincial Novitiate in Burlington, Wis.

 PHOTO BY SHUTTERSTOCK.COM

Advent is my favorite liturgical season.  Maybe it comes from my Mom; purple was her favorite color!  I find myself vulnerable to the symbols and songs – it just seems a little easier to pray during this season.  The daily Scripture readings fit so well together, and are full of delightful images of what it will be like on the day of the Lord’s coming, like the wolf being the guest of the lamb, the shoot sprouting from the cut-off stump, and the abundant feast of the mountain of the Lord. I sense a longing and eagerness welling up within. I love the symbolism of the Advent wreath, with its growing light and colors, preparing us to celebrate the coming of the light that dispels all darkness.  I love the traditional hymns we sing at this time, longing for Emmanuel; I try to catch the expectant spirit of John the Baptist, Isaiah, and Mary, the Virgin, bearing him.  May our Advent journey prepare a way within us.

 

— Fr. Jeff Scheeler, OFM

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