University of Notre Dame Choir in O.C.

First, there wasthe case of the two Westminster choirs. Now we have the case of the two Notre Dames. One is the fire-ravaged Notre-Dame de Paris, a medieval Catholic cathedral, from which the Notre-Dame Choir, Paris, will visit Christ Cathedral in April. The other is (officially) the University of Notre Dame du Lac (“Our Lady of the Lake”), a Catholic university founded (as a college) in 1842 in Notre Dame, Indiana, and boasting numerous choirs, the main one being the Chorale that just gave a well-received, well-attended concert at Our Lady Queen of Angeles (OLQA) Catholic Church in Newport Beach Monday, Jan. 6. 

“It was beautiful—I definitely got chills,” said Vanessa Menesesof Artesia, whose cousin sang in the choir and who attended the concert with her mother and aunt. “’O Holy Night’ is one of my favorites, and to hear a full choir sing it the way they sang it: that’s the best.” 

“The concert was beautiful,” echoed the aunt, Christina Machado of Cerritos. “The emotions the choir sang made the music even more beautiful, making me tear up during ‘O Holy Night’ and ‘Silent Night.’” 

Indeed, the two famous Christmas “Nights” showed off the chorale to great advantage. The pure voices blended together to produce an angelic sound rivaling that of the Vienna Boys’ Choir. This was at the start of the 90-minute concert. By the end, which concluded with four of the university’s patriotic songs, that angelic sound was gone—and that’s a good thing, considering these were fight songs, the last two augmented by audience members encouraged to join. 

“Loved it,” said Alexander Blachly, the Chorale Director and internationally renowned scholar on many aspects of medieval and Renaissance music, who conducted precisely and tastefully, yet with much expression. “The huge audience was magnificent, the church’s acoustics very bright, and the kids very enthusiastic and smart and singing better than ever in my 27 years at Notre Dame.” The chorale had superb accompaniment by PaiviEkrothat the piano. 

The 60-voiced Chorale was on an eight-concert, seven-city California Winter Tour (Jan. 5-11), OLQA being its second stop. The program was grouped into categories, with an early Verdi work, “L’esule” (“The Exile”; 1839, the same year his first opera, “Oberto,” was produced), conducted with verve and excitement by graduate assistant Emmanuel P. de Leon, Jr., and the evergreen “Hallelujah” Chorus from Handel’s “Messiah” being the only selections (out of 20, a dozen in choral arrangements by Blachly) to stand by themselves. There were “Music for the Christmas Season” (Jan. 6 being the traditional date for Epiphany); “Scottish and Irish Folk Songs,” including the ever-popular “Danny Boy” (Notre Dame teams are known as the “Fighting Irish”); a pair of happy Schubert Lieder (songs), a pair of sad Schumann Lieder (using poems by the doomed Mary Queen of Scots), and a pair of Russian songs by Tchaikovsky and Mussorgsky. The “School Songs” ended the concert rousingly. 

“I thought they were most expressive in the Tchaikovsky song (‘The Nightingale’),” according to John Lamb, Assistant Director of Music Ministries at OLQA, who accommodated the choir once it arrived in town. “They contacted us. And having them perform here is a good outreach for the church and its mission of evangelization.” 

“It’s such a pleasure to perform here,” said Emily Mills, a junior accounting major from New Jersey, who serves as the chorale’s treasurer. “You have wonderful acoustics and a big audience turnout. I hope every stop is this well-attended.”

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