By Pamela Seal
Diocese of Lake Charles
The St. Louis Catholic High School Concert Choir has been invited to perform in the National Memorial Day Choral Festival in Washington, D.C., May 26-29, 2023.
The musical tribute saluting America’s military and fallen heroes is hosted by Music Celebrations International in partnership with the United States Air Force and the American Veterans Center.
Colette Tanner, SLCHS choir director, said choir members are excited about the opportunity, noting that St. Louis is the only high school from Southwest Louisiana chosen to participate. The application process took place in the spring of 2022.
“They were surprised when they learned about it but also excited,” said Tanner. “I have never been to the ceremony, so I am just as excited as they are. When you are chosen to perform at festivals, it is always about the experience.”
The St. Louis choir will have the distinguished honor of being featured in concert with the U.S. Air Force Symphony on Sunday, May 28, at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts along with choral groups from around the country.
Ahead of the Memorial Day Parade on Monday, May 29, the choir will sing in front of the National Archives Building on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Tanner said the invitation to perform comes at a good time for the choral group made up of 24 students.
“I had already told the students that I wanted them to go somewhere. We are in a rebuilding phase for the choir,” Tanner noted. “There was a time when the choir had 65-70 voices in it. I am trying to give them as many of the typical experiences that you would get in a choral program as possible.”
In addition to state and district competitions, Broadway musicals, and three yearly concerts, the choir sings for three diocesan Masses throughout the year — Clergy and Religious Recognition Mass in September, Catholic Schools Week Diocesan Mass, and the Chrism Mass during Holy Week.
The Memorial Day Choral Festival will be a chance for them to bring their talent to the national level.
Other highlights will include performing at the Festival Wreath Laying Ceremony and Recital at the National World War II Memorial on Saturday, May 27, honoring veterans. The SLCHS singers will lay a custom-made wreath at the Louisiana column of the Memorial on behalf of St. Louis Catholic High School and the people of Louisiana in gratitude for the those who have served our country.
Following the wreath laying ceremony, the students will attend Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception where they have been invited to perform a half-hour concert of sacred music after Mass.
“The students want to sing A Ukrainian Prayer by composer John Rutter in response to the global tragedy in Ukraine,” said Tanner. “The students love this song and had hoped we could remain in the Basilica after Mass for a few minutes to sing the prayer. Being invited to perform a concert is a gift for all of us.”
While there are various patriotic events throughout the year, Tanner said she is especially grateful the St. Louis choir was chosen to sing for the national Memorial Day concert.
“Singing for Memorial Day gives a religious connotation that we can harken to because we are a Catholic school,” she said. “We can delve into the fact that it is an act of mercy, burying the dead, honoring the dead. It speaks specifically to veterans who have passed, and we memorialize that. In a way, we are participating in a Corporal Work of Mercy.”
Despite the obstacles thrown at them with back-to-back hurricanes in 2020 and other weather-related disasters that followed in 2021, the students have overcome many challenges.
“I think the St. Louis administration and the Diocese of Lake Charles have done a tremendous job with creating as positive an environment as they can with a temporary campus,” Tanner said. “The students always rise above and sing so beautifully. I am so blessed to be able to work with them.”
Tanner said the chance for the students to be with other high school choral students is priceless.
“I am glad they will have the opportunity to see they are just as good as choir members in areas that have not constantly had to overcome obstacles thrust on them by weather,” she said.
Tanner added, “Singing in a choir becomes a humanistic experience in that we all work together to help each other on a communal plane that creates something beautiful beyond what we could do by ourselves.”
National events like these are not without costs. Tanner said the trip for each student, including airfare, hotel accommodations, meals, and tickets to all events, will be $2,000.
Anyone interested in donating or in sponsoring a choir member may contact St. Louis Catholic High School at 337-436-7275 or donate through the following link: https://stlouiscatholichighschool.factsmgtadmin.com/form/DxfPNFxFE?i=&authToken=__token__
Special T-shirts are being made for the students to wear on the trip. To underwrite the expenses for the national choral festival, Tanner said sponsors will be listed on the shirts.
“This is a fantastic group of kids,” said Tanner. “Some of them have been in a choral situation since fourth grade. They are immensely talented and so positive.”