Choir’s mini-tour is a joyful hymn of praise Print
Around the Diocese
Written by Dick Jones, For the Catholic Herald   
Thursday, Oct. 22, 2015 -- 12:00 AM
Dr. Patrick Gorman directs the Madison Diocesan Choir and the St. Anne Parish choir as they sing together at St. Anne Church in Escanaba, Mich. (Ken Halfmann photo)

ESCANABA, Mich. — Despite gray skies and cold, blustery winds, the Madison Diocesan Choir’s recent mini-tour of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (UP) will be remembered as a joyful hymn of praise, a wonderful weekend of friendship and spiritual renewal.

Perhaps more so than any other trip, members not only sang beautifully, they lived the music, embodying John Rutter’s For the Beauty of the Earth and Harold W. Friedell’s Draw Us in the Spirit’s Tether.

True disciples they were, and as their ferry pitched and rolled while crossing the choppy Straits of Mackinac, a few likely uttered lines from Roy Ringwald’s Precious Lord, Take My Hand.

On Sunday, Oct. 4, the choir sang these and other songs of praise at St. Anne Catholic Church in Escanaba. They traveled by charter bus from Madison to Upper Michigan Friday, Oct. 2, arriving late in St. Ignace and then spent Saturday on Mackinac Island.

Weather didn’t dampen spirits

The choir embarked on the mini- tour expecting a spectacular display of fall colors and Indian summer weather. But that was not to be, and it didn’t seem to matter in the least.

“It didn’t seem to dampen anybody’s spirits,” Director Pat Gorman said. “Everybody seemed intent on having a good time, and they did. For me, it was nice having my family along, and they just had a great time!”

Gorman’s wife, Denise, and their daughters, Katie and Sarah, took part in the family-friendly tour. The youngest travelers were the children of member Brian Good and his wife Gail, five-year-old Marian and eight-year-old Caleb.

Homecoming weekend

For Brian Good, it was a homecoming weekend. His childhood home was three blocks from St. Anne’s. For many years, his mother, Joani, was the organist there. He sang in the youth choir and then adult choir until leaving for college.

Good planned the trip with member Ann Lambrecht. Her husband, Ken Halfmann, was born in Menominee, Mich., and they visit the UP every year. Good arranged the St. Anne Parish visit and lodging, while Lambrecht arranged the Mackinac Island visit and transportation, including the ferry.

“It was a top-notch trip,” Gorman said. “It was well planned by Ann and Brian, and well received by the choir. I was really pleased, and it was good singing.”

In Gorman’s 23 years as director, the choir has traveled abroad four times, including a 2001 trip to Italy where the choir sang at the Vatican for St. John Paul II. More recently, the choir has toured Canada and the Ohio River Valley.

Advantages of mini-tour

While nothing can compare to the extended tours abroad and certainly singing in St. Peter’s Square for St. John Paul II, the mini UP tour was extraordinary in its own right.

For one, more members were able to go, and although the distance was short and the duration brief, there was a sense of greater fellowship, both among members and their Escanaba hosts.

“The thing I liked about it is that it was more representative of the Diocesan Choir,” Gorman said. “Our last few trips, less than half of the choir membership went on tour. I think a little over two-thirds were able to attend this year.”

Thirty-four members made the trip. With family and friends, the group totaled 51.

Enjoyable as it was, the trip had a few anxious moments. Crossing the Straits of Mackinac, for one.

“I heard there were record winds and I was worried about the kids and some of the adults,” Gorman said. “But when we went over that first big wave and kind of slammed back down, I looked at all four of the kids who were there, and they all just had huge smiles on their faces. They thought this was the coolest thing in the world. They were sad to see the ferry trip end.”

Once on the island, members were free to visit shops, tour Fort Mackinac and other sites, or ride one of the many horse-drawn carriages. Braving the cold, the Gormans chose a carriage ride, and the Goods joined them.

“The carriage ride was freezing,” Gorman said. “When I saw how cold it was, I thought the kids were going to hate this. They just loved every minute of it. We had blankets, so we were reasonably warm.

“There were lots of very interesting sights. The driver had a good sense of humor and cracked a lot of jokes. They never complained about the cold once! They said, ‘We’d have just as much fun if it were 80 degrees’!”

All gathered for a superb lunch at the historic Grand Hotel. Following an afternoon of more sightseeing, they caught a late ferry back to St. Ignace. Then it was on to Escanaba with all looking forward to singing at St. Anne’s on Sunday morning.

Singing at church

With Glenn Schuster as accompanist, Gorman directed the choir in a 30-minute prelude to 10:30 a.m. Mass. Of the seven selections performed, Gorman thought the choir was at its best in singing Rutter’s For the Beauty of the Earth. Also especially pleasing was William Beckstrand’s Prayer of St. Francis, what has become a signature piece for the choir, second only to The Blessing of Aaron.

“I always like the Prayer of St. Francis, and with October 4 being his feast day, it meant a lot to me,” Gorman said.

Back in his hometown parish, Good sang the solo in the Prayer of St. Francis, and during Mass, he served as cantor. Both choirs sang for Sunday Masses, more than 60 in all giving voice to the liturgical music that included Ringwald’s Precious Lord, Take My Hand.

“The combined choir piece, Precious Lord, Take My Hand, seemed to really fall together with people singing from their hearts,” Gorman said.

In addition to Schuster on organ, Joe Hellberg provided accompaniment on trumpet for the combined choirs during Mass. Hellberg attended school with Good.

In months leading up to the trip, Good was in frequent contact with Katie Gravelle, St. Anne’s choir director. In addition to planning the event, Gravelle also worked with Good to arrange for several choir members to stay with host families in Escanaba.

“My hope was that everyone would have a great time and get to know each other better,” Good said. “The choir and their families definitely grew closer together.

“Singing at St. Anne’s, especially with their choir, was a special experience. The message and music of Draw Us in The Spirit’s Tether seemed especially remarkable to me on this trip, and Precious Lord, Take My Hand with the St. Anne’s choir was amazing.”

Building community

Gravelle said she was happy to work with Good in arranging the visit, not only the music, but finding host families, a first for a Diocesan Choir trip, and organizing a reception following Mass.

“For me, the building of community is as important as the music-making,” she said. “Seeing the two choirs sharing smiles, handshakes, hugs, stories, as well as music, made it all worth the effort.”

Gravelle and her husband John served as hosts to George and Gabrielle Breadon of Monroe. “Loved them,” she said.

“They made us feel at home,” Breadon said. “It was a pleasure to meet such a charming, hospitable family. We hope to stay in touch.”

In planning the tour with Good, Lambrecht had the same goals, a more affordable trip closer to home that would appeal to more members and strengthen the bond among them.

“In spite of some very blustery weather, the flexibility and camaraderie of our choir family, along with the warm hospitality of the ‘Yoopers’ and ‘Islanders’ made the trip a success,” she said.