By NADIA MARIA SMITH
CS&T Staff Writer
The One Flock Choir is taking the Archdiocese of Philadelphia by storm and opening hearts and minds to the potential of children with special needs.
The One Flock Choir is made up of 270 students from the five Catholic special education schools in the Archdiocese: Archangels’ Academy, Archbishop Ryan School for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children, St. Katherine Day School, St. Lucy School for Children with Visual Impairments and Our Lady of Confidence Day School.
“They sing songs that spread the Word, so in the year of St. Paul they are out there preaching,” said Ellen Wedemeyer, the assistant superintendent for special education. “Bishop [Joseph] McFadden reminded all of us that in the Year of St. Paul we were to spread the Word with zealous enthusiasm and this choir does that beyond what I think St. Paul could have imagined. St. Paul would be very proud of them,” she said.
The choir’s youngest member is 4 ½ years old. The oldest is 21, and “we have a child representing just about every disability that you can imagine in the choir,” Wedemeyer said, who is also the choir director.
She came up with the idea of starting the One Flock Choir during prayer at her parish church of St. Margaret Mary Alocoque in Essington, Delaware County. It was a Sunday and she was especially praying about the financial situation the schools faced because of decreased funding; the schools do not receive government funding and rely heavily on donations.
Through the choir they could raise awareness of the needs of each special education school and highlight the important work they carry out. The choir could also help parents learn about the help that exists within Catholic education for their child.
With the idea of the choir also came what is now known as the choir’s anthem, “We are all one flock.” The song begins with the words found in the U.S. bishops’ 1978 pastoral statement on people with disabilities: “We are one Church. We follow a single Shepherd. We are one flock.”
“A very close number-two name for the choir would have been the Respect Life Choir because every set of parents or inspanidual woman made a choice for life and because of that choice we have this choir,” Wedemeyer said.
The next day during a principals’ meeting, she taught them the song, had them record it and then share it with the teachers and classes at each school. Wedemeyer traveled to each school teaching the students the song. She also showed them a video of the students singing the song from the other schools. When she left, the teachers reinforced what she had taught them and worked with the students until she came again. That’s how practices run – with a traveling music director and a team of teachers.
Their debut performance was on Sept. 23 at the Drexelbrook Country Club where nearly 200 parish elementary school principals had gathered for a meeting.
“It was the first time they were singing together with accompaniment in front of 200 people and television cameras. The children were the calmest people in the room,” Wedemeyer said. “The children with autism helped the blind children next to them and the blind children helped the children with Downs. They’d say, ‘I have an ability she or he doesn’t have.’ They did a beautiful job.”
Their next performance will be at the Philadelphia Union League in Philadelphia for the Little Sisters of the Poor luncheon on Friday, Oct. 24, followed by a performance at the Kimmel Center for the Concert for Excellence next March.
“Success breeds success. You don’t have to have success in every area, but just a little bit of success really makes a difference,” Wedemeyer said. “Meeting each other and having everybody rally around them in a common mission has really been contagious. Music is that one thing that everybody shares. It doesn’t matter your age, background or disability because music is the great equalizer.”
CS&T staff writer Nadia Maria Smith may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (215) 965-4614.