A FAMILIAR REFRAIN: FINDING FAMILY THROUGH MUSIC
Golden light filters through stained glass. The result is dust-mote-sprinkled rays of brilliance: indigo, magenta, violet. In late afternoon, Founders Chapel has a certain reverent hush about it, at least until members of the choir trickle in, greeting one another with hugs and laughter.
On this particular Friday — the kickoff to Homecoming and Family Weekend — the group has expanded to include returning alumni from years past, gathered to sing one of the choir’s all-time favorite songs, “Canticle of the Turning.”
“Students just gravitate toward this song,” explains Founders Choir Director Annette Welsh ’79. “It’s always been their favorite, so we end up singing it at graduation, at Candlelight Mass, our visits to the psychiatric hospital, to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot.”
Welsh feels the song epitomizes the message of not just the choir, but of the University of San Diego itself: “It’s a song about reaching out and being there for others. It talks about our concern for each other, about reaching out past ourselves to others in our community.”
Before launching into song, there are rituals to be followed, many instituted over the years by Welsh, who has literally been a part of the choir since day one. There are vocal warm-ups (“mah-meh-mee-moh-moo” in ascending tones); the organic formation of singers and musicians into a tidy circle on the altar; the rushed scurry of the occasional latecomer welcomed with wordless waves; and familiar songs sung in rounds (“Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”/”When the Saints Go Marching In”).
After a bit — perhaps five minutes, maybe longer — hands are clasped, heads are bowed, a heartfelt prayer, a shared moment of tranquility, and then, it’s time to begin. The lucky few who make up this melded choir can’t help but be uplifted by the experience.
“’Canticle of the Turning’ is one of my favorites,” says Peter Bennett ’97. While it’s not unusual for the USD theology professor to be on campus, singing with the choir again is clearly special to him.
“Musically, it’s got this strong, driving beat. And it’s a version of the song of Mary and Luke, the Magnificat. When you combine the lyrics with the intensity of the music, you feel the message as much as you hear the message.”
The song — and the choir itself — has lasting resonance for Rohanee Zapanta ’98, ’01 (JD) as well.
“I grew up in Southeast San Diego,” she recalls. “It’s a working-class neighborhood that didn’t have a lot of affluence, one where not many people graduated from high school, let alone college.” She wasn’t sure she
really belonged at USD when she moved onto campus as a first-year scholarship student.
“I wanted to leave,” she says. A priest noticed that she was struggling and asked her what she had enjoyed doing back in her neighborhood. When she answered, “I used to sing in the choir,” he knew just where to send her.
“When I first got to Founders Chapel Choir, Annette immediately welcomed me. I noticed that there didn’t have to be conversation to make a connection. I really felt connected with everyone by singing and by our faith. There was that unspoken bond immediately. I stayed, and I loved it.”
There’s a similar heartfelt reaction from Jeanne (Pierik) Goodyear ’79, who says that being back with the choir feels like coming home.
“Joining the young people singing is really a special event,” she says. And to be lifting her voice with others to sing “Canticle of the Turning” is particularly meaningful. “It’s a song that speaks about turmoil, and how God is watching over us in our lives. Especially now, with all
the things that are going on in this world, it’s a very optimistic, beautiful song.”
Tracy (Zetts) Telliard ’12, ’16 (MEd) echoes that sentiment. She says that the choir was a huge part of her undergraduate experience; in fact, she’s since organized the Founders Chapel Choir Alumni Affinity Group and leads her own church choir of high school students in Del Mar, California.
“It’s a dream come true,” she says. “Everything that I loved that Annette would do, well, now I try to do as well. I’m certainly not the only person that has gone into liturgical music after being in the Founders Chapel Choir. So many people have become directors, instrumentalists, singers. It carries on through and well past college.”
And being back on campus is always a delight. “’Canticle of the Turning’ is a really fun, high-energy song, and it comes up every year. We usually end Baccalaureate Mass with that song. Holding that last note — watching for that cue at the end — is something everybody has done.”
For Welsh, bringing together current and past members of the choir has profound meaning. “To see our alums come back, without hesitation, and jump right in and sing this song with joy is a wonderful thing.”
Once the last note has faded, it’s time to disperse. At least a few can’t help but linger a bit longer. But evening beckons, and the song, at least for now, is done. — Julene Snyder