2019 Concert for the Missions

The Notre Dame Folk Choir presents the 26th Annual Concert for the Missions. We invite you to join us for a virtual pilgrimage through the Holy Cross Missions in East Africa, following in our steps during our recent visit to Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania through film, photos, and song. Come experience the sights and sounds, faith and history of Holy Cross's work in Africa - stay tuned for a link to stream the concert live if you can’t make it in person.

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East Africa Pilgrimage Teaser

Thank you all for your support of the Folk Choir’s recent pilgrimage to East Africa. We have all safely returned and are thrilled to share the stories of faith and music that we were invited into by those we visited. Here’s a short teaser of some of the sights and sounds from the pilgrimage - stay tuned for more in the Fall, as our 2019 Concert for the Missions will feature music, photos, and video from our visit to Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania.

Filmography by Joshua Martin and Kenny Xu.

Support the Folk Choir's Pilgrimage to East Africa

Dear Friends,

For almost forty years, the Folk Choir has been sharing God’s love through music. Each Spring, Notre Dame hosts a fundraising event called “ND Day” which allows student organizations, like ours, to raise money for activities that enhance our student experience. This year we are raising money to support our upcoming pilgrimage to the Holy Cross Missions in East Africa.

With the ND Day Challenge Fund, your gift to the Folk Choir will be magnified. Your first $10 gift gives you 5 votes to apply to the Folk Choir, making your initial gift worth about $54 for the choir’s pilgrimage fund. Each additional unique gift of $10 yields an additional vote for you to apply to the Folk Choir, again multiplying your giving power! Please see the attached infographic with information about how to donate and vote for the choir.

Sending fifty students to Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda is an expensive task, and we need the help of family, friends, and alumni of the choir so we can encounter and experience first-hand the beauty, richness, and diversity of the Catholic tradition in the global church. We are excited to walk alongside the people we encounter and learn first-hand from the lived faith of these communities. We are not seeking to “save” the people we visit, but to create a personal encounter of shared faith using music as the bridge between our different cultures. In attempting to connect with people from a culture so different from our own, there are many roadblocks, like language barriers and geographic distance, but music is an invaluable tool for overcoming these. We are asking for your prayers and support as we make this pilgrimage to East Africa.

Thank you so much for your continued support of the Folk Choir ministry.

Folk Choir Advent Reflection

Each year, during Advent, I find myself running for dear life to finish out the Fall semester. This Advent has been no exception - the rhythm of the academic calendar with finals and final grades due, trying to finish all the last details before unplugging for the break, and the mad dash of preparations for Christmas seems pretty distant from a season that’s centered around expectation and preparation for the coming of Jesus. All the busy activity of a Notre Dame semester suddenly comes to a screeching halt and I’m left wondering if I’m even ready for Christmas. 

This year, the screeching halt came a bit earlier than usual, and it has given me a little more time to reflect on Advent. Amidst this busyness, and sometimes this darkness, there is suddenly space for peace and for light. In seeing and embracing this darkness, I can finally come to know that I need the Light. Part of the reality of the waiting and preparation in Advent means finding where, in the midst of our experience, the joy in expectation of Christ’s coming can fit in. How can this light inform and brighten the darkness of our everyday hustle? 

I find hope in the work we do everyday with the Folk Choir - in the music we sing, the community we build, and the faith and hope that we share. 

On this 22nd day of December, we join the Church in prayer in the middle of it’s ancient song, the “O Antiphons”, and in particular, O Rex Gentium, or O King of Nations. We hope that this music can help create a space for you in these final days of Advent to find the joy of our coming Savior in your everyday life. 

Music: J.J. Wright
Text: Malcolm Guite “O Rex Gentium

Come to us now and find in us your throne,
O King within the child within the clay,
O hidden King who shapes us in the play
Of all creation. Shape us for the day
Your coming Kingdom comes into its own.

2018 Concert for the Missions


As I begin my second year with the Folk Choir, I am filled with gratitude for the great honor of being the director of this choir. I am grateful for the students in this choir who have welcomed me so warmly. I am grateful to our hosts on the Texas Tour in May-June 2018, whose spirit of hospitality and welcome imparted on me just how great the history and potential of the Folk Choir really are. I am grateful to our alumni and supporters, who have offered their thoughts and prayers for us throughout the year, and gave so generously to our ND Day campaign for our pilgrimage to East Africa in May 2019.

This past year has filled me with hope for the future of the Folk Choir at Notre Dame and beyond. As we press on into the 2018-19 academic year, I wanted to tell you a little bit about our plans for the 25th Annual Concert of the Missions on November 9th, 2018, at 8pm. The choir is working closely with the Holy Cross Mission Center on a two-year project to understand and embody the charisms of the missions in East Africa. This year’s concert will be a presentation entitled "Catch the Spirit", where we will explore, learn, and perform African American sacred music, including jazz, gospel, and spirituals.

With this concert, we aim to encounter "the neighbor" in our midst by embodying and authentically encountering these traditions of music that arose through the struggles of African American people during the last several hundred years. We aim to understand and incorporate into our own lives of faith these traditions, which offer some of the most authentic expressions of the Gospel that have arisen out of the American experience. This music is filled with such joy, hope, and passion, and yet, we miss the whole point - we miss Jesus’s invitation in the Gospel - if we lose sight of American slavery and oppression as it’s context. This music flourished despite the pain and suffering of one of the worst instances of systematized oppression in the modern world.

The stakes are high, as this history deserves our sincerest and most earnest efforts to truly embody the spirit and style of the music. We will do this through careful study, but also by inviting expert guides in each of the styles to walk with us as we learn and perform the music. Ultimately, we will be joined at the concert by master musicians in each of these styles. The majority of musicians that we invite, as well as the majority of composers whose music we will perform will be African American.

This experience is a primer for our pilgrimage to East Africa, training us for the eventual challenge of encountering “the neighbor” outside of the comfort of our home. Our hope is that through an authentic encounter with not only the musical traditions, but also to be accompanied on our journey by musicians who have embodied the deepest parts of these traditions, that we will be able to transform our conceptions of who God can be in our midst.

Please keep in touch and keep us in your prayers!


Grammy-award winning and Billboard Chart topping musician J.J. Wright combines the ancient and the modern for an unforgettable listening experience.

CHICAGO, Illinois -- Saturday, May 13th, 2017 -- Composer and pianist J.J. Wright’s newest CD featuring the J.J. Wright Trio, Vespers for the Feast of the Transfiguration, is now available for pre-order at TransfigurationVespers.bandcamp.com and will be released on August 4th, 2017. Recorded  live at Saint Peter’s Church in NYC as part of their celebrated “Jazz Vespers” series, Wright’s Vespers is a contemporary take on the traditional Christian Liturgy of the Hours, which is prayed daily by religious and lay persons around the world. The album incorporates contemporary  jazz into the familiar Vespers form, resulting in a holistic listening and worship experience.

Listeners can expect the trio, which includes bassist Ike Sturm and drummer Nate Wood, to create a revolutionary blend of Gregorian Chant psalm tones, recognizable hymns and even popular artist Sufjan Stevens’ "The Transfiguration". Drawing from the documents of Vatican II and Pope Francis’ most recent exhortation to artists to sacred musicians, the service is designed to encourage all congregational members toward “full, conscious, and active participation”, regardless of musical ability. The mix of the familiar and the novel demands listener’s interest and draws them into a new encounter with an ancient form of prayer. Fr. James Martin, Jesuit priest and author of "Jesus: A Pilgrimage", notes: "I love J.J. Wright's glorious music, and his new Transfiguration Vespers are composed and performed in his inimitable style: lively, prayerful and inspiring, artfully mixing both the traditional and modern. He's one of the most talented and creative musicians working today.”

J.J. Wright made waves with his trio and Fifth House Ensemble in 2016 with the debut of O Emmanuel, a Christmas oratorio written for the University of Notre Dame Children’s Choir and distributed by Dynamic Catholic. Wright’s other projects include Inward Looking Outward featuring the J.J. Wright Trio and We Turn Around with experimental group Turn Around Norman.

In 2016, a documentary style film by the same name was featured on Salt and Light Television and Catholic TV. Vespers, directed by Tom Sandak, will continue to be broadcast through additional television partnerships and at 2017 film festivals. More information can be found at: http://www.transfigurationvespers.com/


American Composer Re-imagines Giovanni Anerio’s Work for the 21st-Century in the Church where Anerio’s music was first performed four centuries ago.

Rome, Lazio/Italy: Five new oratorios, composed by J.J. Wright and based on the works of Giovanni Anerio, will be premiered on Thursday, June 1 at 21:00 at Chiesa Nuova. Sponsored by the University of Notre Dame (Indiana, USA) and the Pontificio Instituto di Musica Sacra (Roma), the concert and will feature a combined chorus of students from both institutions jazz ensemble. The concert is free and open to the public.

The newly composed works are based on the Liturgy of the Word from the Christian Easter Vigil Mass. Five dramatized biblical and devotional scenes based off of Giovanni Anerio's Teatro Armonico Spirituale di Madrigale (1619) are reimagined using the languages of jazz and contemporary music. Teatro was originally created for and performed in the Chiesa Nuova Oratorio Church exactly 400 years ago.

Conceived by Grammy award winning conductor, pianist, and composer J.J. Wright, this work follows the critical success of his Advent and Christmas cantata, O Emmanuel, which quickly became a classical bestseller and spent weeks on top on the Billboard Classical Charts.

The Oratorio Vespertino services in early 17th-Century Rome, including Teatro, were some of the city’s most well attended musical and spiritual offerings. Wright’s new project examines how the Vespertino services at Chiesa Nuova allowed the oratorio form to flourish. Wright’s new oratorios incorporate the best practices of this revered movement in order to spur a rebirth of sacred music and Christian devotion in the 21st century.

Piepaolo Polzonetti, Professor of Musicology at the University of Notre Dame and scholar of Italian music says “Anerio’s oratorios were written to engage the people through drama and music of great immediacy, appealing to the tastes of diverse groups of people. Wright studied Anerio’s style carefully to produce something different but analogous. His music captures the intent of Baroque oratorios to offer a similar experience to us today. This is a project of informed cultural translation and fusion of traditions - Italian and American -  to produce innovative art that has a real purpose.”

For more information visit jjwrightmusic.com or international.nd.edu/global-gateways/rome/.

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University of Notre Dame Folk Choir

Dear Friends,

It's my great pleasure to share that I've accepted the position as Director of the The University of Notre Dame Folk Choir, starting on July 1st!

I'm honored to have the opportunity to carry on the great legacy that Steven Warner has built and to work closely with Karen Schneider Kirner and all of the students in the choir. I look forward to working with Fr. Pete McCormick, Andrew McShane, Patrick Kronner and the entire Notre Dame Campus Ministry team.

Alexandra and I are thrilled to be returning to South Bend with our family to call the University of Notre Dame our home.

The learn more about the Folk Choir, visit: http://www3.nd.edu/~folk/


O Emmanuel Now Available for Pre-Order

Experience Christmas music at its very best. O Emmanuel, a new album by J.J. Wright and the Notre Dame Children’s Choir, takes you on a compelling journey into the heart of Christmas through creative renditions of the texts and melodies of Advent (“O Come, O Come Emmanuel”, “Gabriel’s Message”) and Christmas (“Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming”, “Hodie Christus natus est”). 

The children’s voices, jazz piano trio, adult vocal soloists, and instrumentalists of Fifth House Ensemble work together to create an unforgettable Christmas-listening experience. Recorded at the University of Notre Dame’s DeBartolo Performing Arts Center, this album was produced and edited by GRAMMY Award-winning producer Thomas Moore and engineered by GRAMMY Award-winning engineer Robert Friedrich of Five/Four Productions, Ltd. 


"Inward Looking Outward" Chosen for "Best of 2014" Lists

Inward Looking Outward has been selected for two "Best of 2014" lists so far: 


"Uncommonly fresh and quietly inventive, Inward Looking Outward breathes new life into the venerable ol’ piano trio without having to step outside to achieve that. A rare achievement, to be sure." - S. Victor Aaron


"Under-the-radar jazz album that deserves your attention." - Ted Gioia

Vespers Concert Preveiwed in South Bend Tribune

Vespers Concert Preveiwed in South Bend Tribune

By JACK WALTON Tribune Correspondent

Composer J.J. Wright’s “Vespers for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception” is doubly ambitious. 

Stylistically, he’s merging the worlds of classical music and jazz. Moreover, he’s blurring the lines between musical performance and religious ritual.

“I wanted to preserve a liturgical element within the setting of a concert,” Wright says.

Performing the Scholarship: Vespers for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception

Performing the Scholarship: Vespers for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception

"Vespers for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception is an interdisciplinary concertized vespers service that combines new music, jazz, baroque music, Christian liturgy and musicological scholarship. It is scored for a quartet of vocal soloists, string quartet, basso continuo, and jazz piano trio. The composition is being written for the “Performing the Scholarship” recital series, sponsored by the Sacred Music Program at the University of Notre Dame.

Musical Thoughts on the Transfiguration

Musical Thoughts on the Transfiguration

On Inward Looking Outward, "The Transfiguration" plays a pivotal role in the musical narrative for the listener. The track is near the end of the record and acts as a transition from the earlier tracks' feeling of a journey to the record's arrival point. From here, the narrative calms down and sends the listener forth with the final track of "Take Me Home". 

All About Jazz Reviews "Inward Looking Outward"

All About Jazz Reviews "Inward Looking Outward"

It's something of a cliché to say that an artist is one of a kind, but it fits the bill with Wright. His music is informed by religion, yet his music bears no traces of religiosity, and he's plugged into the rhythmically perspicacious nature of modern music, yet he often speaks in measured tones, using direct phrasing that's at once unique and wholly in tune with the ear.