Hesburgh reflecting pool stages ND Children’s Choir performance

From The Observer

Notre Dame students, faculty and community members will be able to rediscover their inner child at the Notre Dame Children’s Choir’s performance of “Noye’s Fludde,” taking place Friday and Saturday at the Hesburgh Library courtyard on a stage above the reflecting pool.

The children’s opera (pronounced “Noah’s Flood”) tells the Biblical story of Noah and the Ark. Children’s Choir director Mark Doerries said adult actors would play the characters of Noye, Noye’s wife and their three older children’s wives. Eleven-year-old Benjamin Capedveille will sing the voice of God, members of the older children’s choir will play Noye’s children and town children and members of the younger children’s choir will play the animals on the ark.

Doerries said while past productions of British composer Benjamin Britten’s opera have focused on the story of Noye and his wife, this performance is different.

“[The performance] is from the point of view of the child, and what would it be like to imagine, to create, to build, and then to inhabit, to bring all these animals into the ark from the point of view of the child,” Doerries said.

To create this feeling, Doerries said the children have been involved in every step of the production process. Younger choir members chose which animals they wanted to play and drew pictures of them. Student production designers then created exact frames for the costumes, and before each performance or rehearsal, the children finish the costumes themselves, he said.

“I met with the designers, and we were trying to come up with a way to get the kids involved. We thought, ‘who out of all of us has the best imagination?’ And it was the kids,” Doerries said. “The kids’ imagination is unsurpassable, so that’s why we decided to use them as the starting point.

“Coincidentally, this is exactly how the original [1958] production did it. They had the kids design and build the costumes they used in the original productions, staying true to children’s operas’ community character.”

Sophomore set designer Olivia Bratton said the children also put together the prop representing the ark during each performance, representing a change in scene.

“The idea is really playing off how imaginative kids can be,” Bratton said. “[The performance starts in] an art classroom, but especially for young kids, it’s not as much about teaching them art as it is about giving them materials and seeing what they can do themselves.

“They teach themselves, because especially within art kids have such an innate ability to create. The idea is that Noye is the teacher within a specified area, and then the kids’ imagination goes wild and they create the ark, and they have these materials by which they can do so.”

Doerries said the performance will be interactive, with attendees receiving coloring books, bubbles and sidewalk chalk.

“We want to invite the audience to rediscover that imaginative space of the child, that so often we lose when we grow up,” Doerries said. “We become overly-structured. This is really my first year working full-time with children, and I have been inspired by the way that they think and the way that they imagine the everyday. What is mundane to us is exciting and new to them. It would be incredible to recapture that ability to see the world as a fresh, inspiring place.”

Joseph Mace, who plays Noye, said the audience interactions mirrors the journey of the adult characters of the show, who start off as cranky, unimaginative and contemporary and undergo a change during the show.

I’m most pleased at the concept coming in, which is this idea of a rediscovery of my own childhood as an actor and as a singer,” Mace said. “It’s been personal, but artistically too; to see Noye at the beginning of the opera is a very stodgy, uptight art teacher, and as he’s teaching the children’s imaginations create this story that we tell of Noye.

“He becomes Noye, and his journey of accepting that creativity and that spark of imagination, and then for me by the time the animals show up … he goes in and out of understanding his own creativity and his own spirit and his own life that’s more than what he allows it to be as a cranky grown-up.”

This is the Notre Dame Children’s Choir’s first year. Doerries said it currently has about 50 members, and he hopes to expand to 100 or more in the coming years. He said it draws staff members’ children as well as children within the community.

“I like singing, and I like singing with people who like to sing also, and it’s fun being there because I get to be with my friends,” nine-year-old Lilia Lyden, who plays the dove in the show, said.

Notre Dame professor revises catalog of ancient Christian texts for Vatican library digitization project

Classics professor Joseph Amar examines a copy of the commentary of the Book of Genesis by Jacob of Edessa. Amar said he believes this manuscript was published in the third century.
Classics professor Joseph Amar examines a copy of the commentary of the Book of Genesis by Jacob of Edessa. Amar said he believes this manuscript was published in the third century. Photo by Emily McConville

The Vatican library provides invaluable resources for Department of Classics professor Joseph Amar, but in the course of his study, he has worked to correct discrepancies in one of the library’s manuscript catalogs, he said.

Using manuscripts from the first centuries of Christianity, Amar said he studies the writings of early Christian thinkers. Many of the manuscripts he studies reside in the Vatican Library, collected over many centuries and cataloged in the Bibliotheca Orientalis Clementino-Vaticana, an 18th-century tome that lists the authors of documents, their publication dates and descriptions of their contents, Amar said.

He also studies the Aramaic language and its dialects, which linked Christianity and Judaism and, at times, made them almost indistinguishable.

“In general, it’s about documenting Christianity at a crucial stage in its history, where it’s still very Jewish-looking but hasn’t become entirely the kind of Christianity we recognize today,” Amar said. “It sort of still has one foot in Judaism and one foot in Christianity. This is preserved in these ancient manuscripts because Jews and Christians were using the same language.”

Amar said as he delved into the texts over the course of his career, documenting the ideas of early Christian thinkers and studying everything from the content of manuscripts to handwriting styles, he noticed that the Vatican Library had a record-keeping problem. Until recently, he would find the documents he needed ⎯ often the only copies in existence ⎯ stacked on shelves, unorganized and unprotected.

Amar also found serious discrepancies between the manuscripts themselves and the catalog that was supposed to guide the scholars researching them, he said. Some descriptions misidentify the author of a text or the date of its publication, Amar said. Others misrepresent the manuscript’s argument, in what Amar called a “Catholicizing tendency.”

“It gives the impression that the manuscripts are in agreement with contemporary Catholic teaching, when of course many of the manuscripts are very ancient and pre-date anything that was going on in any church,” he said. “But you only know that when you look at the manuscript itself and compare it to what’s in the catalog, and you say, ‘Someone has been fudging the information here.’”

Part of Amar’s job is to correct these errors, he said. In addition to his research on the time period itself, Amar works as a consultant for the Vatican Library, pointing out where the manuscripts and the Bibliotheca Orientalis Clementino-Vaticana differ.

“I look at [the manuscript], I look at the way it’s described in the catalog, and I say we have to change A, B and C,” Amar said. “Sometimes we have to change the century in which it was written and the author that we thought wrote it.”

Because the manuscripts often have pages missing, finding the right information, especially the document’s author, involves some sleuthing, Amar said.

“It’s really hard,” he said. “[You find the author] by the language itself. You look at the words the author used, and you say to yourself, ‘If this is written by X, did X use this kind of writing? Did he use these words? Does this fit what we know about him?’ Then either you say either the manuscript attribution is correct, that the guy they say wrote it actually wrote it, or you make an educated speculation that, ‘I’m pretty sure that this isn’t who they say it is, but it could be Y or Z. But it sure isn’t X.’”

Amar’s work has taken on new significance in the digital age. In addition to improving its organization, in recent years, the Vatican Library has begun to digitize its oldest and rarest documents. Whereas the Bibliotheca Orientalis Clementino-Vaticana was once the only source of information on a text, the library can now update the description on the Web, incorporating Amar’s research, he said. The project involves many scholars who are largely in charge of the digitization in their own fields.

“They sort of let me take the lead,” Amar said. “They say, ‘When we draw up a list of priority, of manuscripts to digitize, which ones do we own in The Vatican that no one else has copies of?’ Those are number one. And which of those do we need to correct as far as the catalog goes to give people a clearer understanding of exactly what’s in them?”

Amar said the process often leads to new discoveries. For example, scholars believed for centuries that Jacob of Edessa, an influential Biblical scholar, had written a commentary on the Book of Genesis ⎯ but no one could find it. Meanwhile, a catalog contained a misidentified Genesis commentary, Amar said. By comparing that manuscript’s writing and handwriting style with Jacob’s known works, Amar said he was able to correctly attribute the commentary to him.

“It’s like reinventing the wheel,” Amar said. “This is something altogether new, from way in the beginning of Christianity, in a part of the world that we don’t even think about in Christian terms.”

Africana Studies display on Ann Coulter vandalized

From The Observer

The Africana Studies bulletin board, which was vandalized over Easter weekend, will remain on display until the end of the year.
The Africana Studies bulletin board, which was vandalized over Easter weekend, will remain on display until the end of the year. Photo by Emily McConville

An Africana Studies department bulletin board displaying quotes by political commentator Ann Coulter was defaced with red paint over Easter weekend.

University spokesman Dennis Brown said Notre Dame Security Police (NDSP) was investigating the incident as an act of vandalism.

The bulletin board, which remains outside the office on the third floor of O’Shaughnessey Hall, contains several of Coulter’s comments on issues such as race, gender and religion, displayed under the heading “Freedom of Speech, Freedom to Hate: There is a difference.” Gayle Wilson, the administrative assistant and office coordinator for the Africana Studies department, said an unknown person painted messages responding to specific pieces of the board and painting messages such as “What exactly is PC?” and “Don’t be bullied by the ‘Happy Police.’” 

Wilson said the board, which two student office employees made, was put up the day before Coulter’s April 10 talk. She said the defacement occurred by the time a coworker walked by the display April 21. Wilson learned of the vandalism the following day and called NDSP. 

In a statement to The Observer, Rev. Hugh Page, chair of the Africana Studies department, said he was “deeply saddened” by the incident. 

“Such action is clearly inconsistent with the values we espouse as a community of faith and learning,” he said. “I want to congratulate the students and staff whose creative energies are reflected in the board, which seeks to raise awareness. … Their work is resonant with a long and honored tradition of social engagement among Africana artists.” 

Africana Studies Club president Alex Rice said she was disappointed with the perpetrator’s unwillingness to participate in reasoned dialogue about the issues the bulletin board raised. 

“I wasn’t angry, I would say. I was more disappointed than anything because the Africana Studies department really prides itself on trying to start dialogue,” Rice said. “What happened — an obvious act of vandalism — it wasn’t trying to start dialogue or hear the other side. 

“It was really, we don’t agree with you; we’re going to say so in a very disrespectful manner.” 

Alex Coccia, student body president emeritus and Africana Studies major, said the discipline is “an inherently socially and politically active experience.”

“Given this reality within Africana Studies, it is unfortunate that the display was vandalized,” he said. “We have to be willing to see the world as it was, because our current environment is a product of that world. We cannot ignore these facts when we engage in discussions about rhetoric and how it utilizes historically volatile connotations.

“Speaking more loudly than other voices, the verbal equivalent of painting over the Africana Studies display, does nothing to further constructive dialogue,” Coccia said. “There is nothing wrong with engaging in a heated debate, in fact, heated debates are more powerful than cold, calculated analytics, because they evoke the passions of a community. … But even in disagreement, we cannot disparage or disrespect.” 

Rice said the incident was a topic at this month’s Finally Friday, a monthly discussion series hosted by the Africana Studies Club.

She said the group, which included students and faculty, discussed ways to improve the quality of dialogue about race and speech on campus and increase the amount of discussions with people on multiple sides of an issue. She said the consensus among the attendees was that the board should remain on display until the end of the year.  

Notre Dame ROTC holds annual Pass In Review on South Quad, renewing old tradition

From The Observer

ROTC Pass In Review, Emily McConville
Photo by Emily McConville

In the middle of the 20th century, Notre Dame’s South Quad was a military rallying point. University archive photos from the WWII era and the 1950s show Notre Dame’s ROTC units and other military organizations marching up and down the quad in front of Rockne Memorial and a partially-constructed O’Shaughnessy Hall.

Wednesday evening showcased that era, as the Notre Dame Trimilitary Organization – the Navy, Army and Air Force ROTC units ¬– presented themselves on South Quad for their reviewing by Naval Commanding Officer Mike Ryan, University President Fr. John Jenkins and the general public at the Annual Pass in Review, a symbolic display of skill and precision. The ceremony included a benediction by Fr. Peter Rocca, the presentation of student awards and a speech from Jenkins.

“It’s a ceremonial thing, where in the field or in other military environments, they’ll do this as kind of a big show,” said senior, midshipman David Murphy, who received an award at the Pass in Review. “There’s usually something attached to it, where we’ll do the Pass in Review, and it’s symbolic when [troops] come home from deployment or something that shows discipline, that the uniforms are properly worn and things like that.”

Junior public affairs officer and midshipman Cassie Gettinger said the ceremony in its current form, in which the troops perform exercises for the University president, dates back to the presidency of University President Emeritus Fr. Theodore Hesburgh.

In recent years, the ceremony has taken place in Arlotta Stadium or the Stepan Center. Junior, event organizer and midshipman Lizzie Terino said the students wanted the Pass in Review to be a visible reminder of the military’s relationship with Notre Dame.

“It’s kind of always been off to the side, not in a public area, but ROTC’s always been a big program on campus,” Terrino said. “The military has a long tradition with Notre Dame, with the Navy using Notre Dame and keeping it open, so we wanted to make it public and for people to come out and see the ceremony.

Midshipman Murphy Lester, a senior and key organizer of the ceremony, said moving the event to South Quad was difficult logistically but ultimately rewarding.

“Historically, you see all these pictures, the old WWII pictures of the whole formation out on South Quad,” Lester said. “South Quad was built as a parade ground for events exactly like this.

“I’m not sure why we got away from it for awhile, but as a senior, I knew for our class it would really mean a lot to parade back and forth in front of the Golden Dome.”

In his remarks, Jenkins pointed to the University’s long relationship with the military, in particular the United States Naval Academy, connecting it to Notre Dame’s identity as a Catholic university and speaking of the importance of each to the other.

“You can point to the past,” Jenkins said. “During WWII, the school was really kept in business by the presence of the Naval community. You can point to the service of generations of Notre Dame graduates in the military … even those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their nation.”

Jenkins said the Notre Dame ROTC program strives to train its cadets and midshipmen to show the highest level of moral integrity according to St. Augustine’s concept of a just war.

“It is a just peace that you cadets and midshipmen will serve. That is a noble cause. A clear and consistent understanding of that high moral calling is what distinguishes everybody in the Notre Dame ROTC program.”