The ONE FLOCK CHOIR
Our voices soar, for our disabilities cannot weigh us down
It began as any other Sunday. I was sitting in the same pew, in the same spot, where I sit every Sunday at St. Margaret Mary Alocoque Church. I was praying the same prayer I prayed every Sunday, that God would help me find a way to keep open the five Catholic schools of special education. Despite almost 100 years of existence, the fact that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia had five Catholic schools of special education seemed to be a well- kept secret. Donations had decreased and enrollment had decreased and these amazing, vibrant, first quality schools of special education were in serious financial trouble.
While praying, I received my answer…a choir. I would start a choir. A choir that would place Catholic children with special needs exactly where they belong in our society, front and center. A choir that would let all know of these remarkable schools and the way the teachers and principals at these schools change the lives of these Catholic children with special needs. The song that would become the choir’s anthem came streaming into my head. I drove home as quickly and as safely as possible while scribbling the words and music to the song that played loudly and clearly in my head, onto napkins, tiny scraps of paper and the side of my WAWA coffee cup.
The next day, Monday, the five principals of the five Catholic schools of special education met with me for their monthly meeting. I told the principals of the answer to my prayer and they embraced the idea of the choir.
And so it began…
I began traveling to the five schools of special education and teaching the song. In my absence, the teachers and the principals would reinforce what music had been taught and then I would arrive again and teach the next part of the song. This is how the choir practiced, with a team of dedicated teachers, principals and parents and a traveling assistant superintendent/choir director.
The first time all five schools came together to sing in the same place was in front of almost 200 elementary principals and Action News. Their disability could not weigh them down; the children soared! The children were meeting each other for the first time. Children with Down Syndrome help children with blindness up on the stage. Children who were deaf were helping to move the microphones and taking their place next to children with autism, older children carried little Matthew in his wheel chair onto the stage. Then, a silence fell over the room. Over two hundred Catholic educators watched and waited as the news cameras moved into position. These children had never sung a single note together and now, they were about to, for the first time. They were poised and confident. I was a wreck.
I nodded to Maria, our accompanist and the mother of the youngest choir member, Simon, 5 and half years old and completely blind. She nodded back to me and the children began to sing. It was as if the angels themselves took pause to watch this miracle unfold. News of the choir spread and the following year was a whirlwind with enough stories to fill a second book.
Several papers wrote about the choir.
“The One Flock Choir, the respect life choir of children with special needs, of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, is opening hearts and breaking down barriers as the only choir of its kind in the nation. Every child who is enrolled in one of the five schools of special education has an invitation to join the choir. There is no audition necessary as quality of voice is not as important as purity of spirit.
The students in our one-of-a-kind ONE FLOCK CHOIR range in age from 41/2 to 21 years old. Every child in one of the five schools of special education is invited into the One Flock Choir regardless of musical ability or disability. The choir has 230 members. Children who are blind, or deaf, or mentally challenged, or in a wheel chair …children with Autism, Down syndrome, or cognitive or developmental delay…children with multiple impairment such has cognitive impairment and Spina Bifida or cognitive impairment and Cerebral Palsy…any child with any disability is invited into this choir, the choir that spreads the message that we are one Church, we all follow a single Shepherd and this makes us ALL One Flock.
Within this choir are children of just about every age who have
just about every disability and yet spread the word that we are all One Flock. Although their disabilities are as varied as their personalities, they all share the same love of music. Thousands of people have now heard this choir sing and everyone who does, is forever changed!
Dr. Ellen M.E. Wedemeyer, the Assistant Superintendent for Special
Education for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, and the Founder and Choir Director of the One Flock Choir created the choir to give these children with special needs the opportunity to share the joy of music with each other and with those who are fortunate enough to hear this one of a kind choir. The One Flock Choir sings all original music, written by Dr. Wedemeyer, which spreads the message of this very “special” choir.”