Michael O. Garvey | November 10, 2014
Preaching in the fourth century, St. Augustine is supposed to have said that a person who sings prays twice. Scholars have quibbled about the attribution over the centuries since, but whether or not the words are truly Augustine’s, Christians at worship have always taken them as true.
Steve Warner certainly has. As director of the University of Notre Dame Folk Choir, he works in an area where performance art and pastoral theology intersect, freely admitting that “I’ve come to ask, in all my diverse labors with this ensemble, a simple question. Why do I continue to do what I do, except for God? Why pour so much time and energy into diphthongs, consonants, standing order in the choir loft, repertoire selection, tuning, glottal stops, breathing techniques, except for God? Except for our ability to touch the human heart, to allow music to effect a conversion experience, an ineffable, inescapable landscape of joy and meaning to this life. Why do any of it, except for this holy purpose?”
Warner’s diverse labors include the composition of hymns, and many of those hymns have become familiar to Catholic parishioners throughout the English-speaking world. “Set Your Heart on the Higher Gifts,” “Make of Our Hands a Throne,” “Crux Fidelis” and Warner’s musical setting of the Lord’s Prayer are all sung and prayed in churches far from the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, where Warner and the Folk Choir sing and pray every Sunday at the 11:45 a.m. Mass.