El Dorado native returns to perform with touring choir
EL DORADO -- The expression of one's faith assumes as many diverse forms as there are individual members of the faith community -- some are drawn to contemplative and quiet reflection, while others seemed destined to "make a joyful noise unto the Lord."
Stephen Eckart, a 2009 graduate of the University of Notre Dame and former parishioner of Holy Redeemer Church in El Dorado, is the latter.
He and about four dozen members of the Notre Dame Folk Choir raised their voices to perform a range of sacred hymns for parishioners and non-parishioners alike, who had packed the pews of Holy Redeemer for a free concert May 26.
The concert wasn't just about providing an evening of free entertainment, however. The choir is a mission of the universal Church, according to choir director Steven C. Warner.
Funds collected from the current "Big Rivers Tour" -- the two-week itinerary wrapped with a community Mass at the Chapel of St. Cecilia in Nashville May 31 -- will be allocated to St. Joan of Arc School in New Orleans, an area still recuperating from enormous losses following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
"We always work to connect the dots of social justice," said Warner, adding, "That area may have slipped off the radar of many in the media, but it doesn't mean we should forget about them."
In addition, Eckart and many of his fellow Notre Dame alumni give serious consideration to dedicating one year of volunteer service ahead of developing their respective careers following graduation. Eckart, 22, is contemplating a year-long stint at a health clinic in Philadelphia before tackling medical school at either Tulane University in New Orleans or Loyola University in Chicago.
"They get it," said Warner. "When you sing Scripture for four years, you get it, especially when you sing for joy and hope."
Perhaps some of that joy arises from the blessings of having toured not only across North America, but England, Scotland and Ireland, where Eckart and other choir members performed for the 10-year anniversary of Notre Dame's Keough-Naughton Centre.
More recently, the choir was featured on the national broadcast of the Easter Sunday liturgy, which aired on NBC and was commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The ensemble serves as one of Notre Dame's principal liturgical choirs, primarily singing at the 11:45 a.m. Mass at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart each Sunday during the academic year. At the end of the school year in May, the choir takes to the road for an intense routine of often twice-a-day performances and regular celebrations of Mass at parishes across the country, or overseas.
"We've worked hard. It certainly takes a lot out of us," Eckart said. "But we have a lot of fun with it, too."
The generosity so prevalent among choir members is always reciprocated at the various parishes in which they perform. Several Holy Redeemer parishioners opened their homes to the students when El Dorado became a stop on the choir's itinerary -- of course, that included Eckart's own parents, John and Laurie Eckart, who are active members of the community.
Court 2574 of the Catholic Daughters of the Americas also hosted a potluck dinner prior to the concert, while the men of the parish served breakfast the next morning just before the choir departed for their next destination, Baton Rouge, La.
Wherever they perform, the choir delivers enormous range in their musical selections and genres -- from the rhythmic drumbeat of African music to traditional Celtic folk tunes to personalized songs of praise written by Notre Dame Priests.
Eckart, whose musical foundation is rooted in piano lessons as a first-grader at Holy Redeemer School, sings bass for the choir. His time in the ensemble has deepened his own faith, he said.
"The music expresses ideas and beliefs in a powerful way," Eckart said. "And it's great to see how it affects other people."
"It was not only a wonderful evening for members of our own church, it was certainly full of ecumenical outreach," said Father Gregory Pilcher, OSB, Holy Redeemer's pastor. "The choir performed such beautiful and sacred music; it transformed the event into a refreshing spiritual experience for us all."
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