Fire ends ‘dream’ of UK Chorale’s performance at Notre Dame, but French tour will continue

Notre Dame Cathedral spire collapses

A spire at the famous Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris collapses after a fire broke out on April 15, 2019.
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A spire at the famous Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris collapses after a fire broke out on April 15, 2019.

As millions of people watched Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral go up in flames Monday, Jefferson Johnson was grieving and planning.

As conductor of the University of Kentucky Chorale, Johnson and 37 students were scheduled to perform a program of sacred music at Notre Dame on May 10, a date he called “the dream of every choir.” To be accepted, Johnson had to turn in chorale recordings and his resume.

“It’s just devastating,” Johnson said as he watched CNN recordings of flames devouring the 12th-century cathedral.

Johnson has conducted at Notre Dame twice before with different choirs.

“It’s absolutely amazing,” he said. “It’s one of the most awe-inspiring performance venues I’ve ever been in.”

The program included two African-American spirituals, some sacred Catholic music and the world premiere of “Kyrie,” a composition written by Parker Van Houten, a sophomore from Louisville.

The week-long trip will happen anyway. The Chorale — the most select choir at UK, made up mostly of junior and senior music majors — will also sing at the American Cemetery in Normandy on May 8th for the 75th anniversary of D-Day. They will then travel to Paris to perform at another Paris church, La Madeleine, which was built in the style of a Greek temple to commemorate Napoleon’s victories. Johnson is also going to ask his tour company about an alternate performance at Sainte Chapelle, a Gothic royal chapel also on the Ile de la Cite near Notre Dame.

“We’re going to turn this tragedy into a teaching moment,” Johnson said. “We’ll talk about valuing art and the importance of this moment in history, including the religious significance and irony of this happening during Holy Week. There’s a lot we can teach about this.”

A fire broke out at the famous Notre Dame cathedral in Paris on April 15, 2019.