Annie Wolaver Dupre and her brother, Benjamin Wolaver, grew up in a nondenominational Christian household, but eventually both found their spiritual home in the Catholic Church. The Tennessee family plays and prays together, and both activities helped lead them to embrace Catholicism.
Along with their parents, Robin and Bill Wolaver, as well as their siblings, Alex, Camille, Gretchen and Jeremiah, Annie and Benjamin all joined the Catholic Church on Easter Sunday 2013.
The siblings belong to the internationally renowned Annie Moses Band, which has performed on PBS, Fox News and FOX 5 (KVVU Las Vegas), ABC-Dallas’ “Good Morning Texas,” Janet Parshall’s America, the 700 Club, TBN, and LeSea Broadcasting, as well as on such radio shows as The Todd Starnes Show and The Eric Metaxas Show. Their music has taken them all around the world, and the band has become one of our nation’s most prominent emissaries of American music.
The band plays “classical crossover,” or, as Annie puts it, “upscale Americana,” blending classical music with American folk, jazz, pop and bluegrass.
“The commonality in all our music is it’s acoustic in nature,” Annie says.
Past band projects included the album “American Rhapsody,” which featured original compositions as well as numbers by Stephen Foster, Aaron Copland and George Gershwin. Currently the group is touring the production “Copland to Cash,” named for Aaron Copland and Johnny Cash. The music they play is a “cornucopia of iconic American melodies” such as “Hoedown,” “Rhapsody in Bluegrass” (the family’s rendition of “Rhapsody in Blue”), “Appalachian Spring,” and “Ghost Riders in the Sky.”
The group is also planning on releasing a faith-themed album in the future called “Under the Tree of Life,” Annie says, which will include musical interpretations of ancient Scriptures and prayers.
The band was named after their great grandmother, who picked cotton for a wealthy landowner during the Great Depression, saving money to pay for a few piano lessons for the sibling’s grandmother, Jane. In turn, Jane pinched pennies so that the siblings’ mother, Robin, could learn piano, a pursuit that took her to Oklahoma City University. There she met Bill Wolaver, a jazz musician and arranger. Together they wrote several Christian songs, including the Sandi Patty hit, “Make His Praise Glorious,” which was nominated for a Dove Award. Robin eventually detailed her grandmother’s story in the book “The Song of Annie Moses.”
The Wolavers homeschooled their kids and raised their children to play music. Annie, Benjamin, and Alex all attended the famed Juilliard School in New York City, where Alex served as principal violist for the Juilliard Pre-College Symphony. All the musicians sing, with Annie serving as lead singer, and she also plays violin; Benjamin plays cello; Alex plays viola; Camille plays harp and B3 organ; Gretchen plays guitar, mandolin and violin; and Jeremiah plays guitar. Camille is married and recently had her third child and has taken a sabbatical from the band’s touring.
Each Wolaver took a different path to Catholicism. Annie, for example, says her husband, Scott, is a cradle Catholic who “experienced a true conversion in his 20s,” and played a role in her own conversion.
“There was a question of how we were going to raise our children,” she says. “In the end, I realized that I truly believed the Catechism and its teachings, and that I couldn't keep walking in the faith without a wholehearted acceptance of the Church.”
She also notes all the Wolavers were drawn to the Church’s teachings on family life.
“Our mother, Robin, has done a lot of work in midwifery and guiding women in motherhood,” she says. “The teachings of the Church in regard to life, marriage, children were a great catalyst for them in their journey.”
She also notes the women in the family found the Church’s devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary as “our mother” appealing.
“Praying the rosary has been a revelation,” she says. “We were always a deeply prayerful family, but it has been a tremendous source of grace to tap into.”
Meanwhile, her brothers, Benjamin and Alex, studied such writers as Erasmus, as well as the Church’s sacramental teaching and practices such as reciting the rosary. Reading Pope Benedict XVI and St. Pope John Paul II, Benjamin says he came to believe the Catholic Church’s adherence to what it believes are eternal truths encouraged him and his family to convert.
“I think that sense of stability was something we wanted very much,” he says.
When asked why they joined the church when others have left it, in the wake of the abuse scandals or battles over such issues as ordination, Annie noted she did ponder the “gravitas” of the scandals but concluded there were other issues that nonetheless convinced her to convert.
“I think, on a foundational level, the questions for us were, either the teachings are true or not, regardless of people’s sanctity,” she says, noting for example, “Either the true presence [of Jesus Christ] is in the Eucharist or it’s not.”
Benjamin adds that the Church’s role in nurturing the classical arts, also influenced his decision to become a Catholic.
“Being classical musicians, we always loved sacred music,” Benjamin adds. “Attending Mass and liturgies, you begin to see where the art belongs; the life of the Church brings that forth, so to speak.
For example, he says, now that he is Catholic, he has a clearer understanding of “Panis Angelicus” (“Bread of Angels”), part of the hymn “Sacris solemniis” written by St. Thomas Aquinas for the feast of Corpus Christi. “Panis Angelicus” has been set to different music over the centuries, most famously by 19th-century composer César Franck.
“I never really understood ‘Panis Angelicus,’ for instance before I was Catholic,” Benjamin says. “There are certain songs that ‘come to life’ when you understand the original context.”
“I myself like to think we kind of discovered we were already Catholic,” Annie says, noting she was also attracted to the Church’s ancient truths, centuries-old practices and liturgies.
Annie says playing music together with her other family members in the Annie Moses Band creates a powerful emotional bond.
“There’s a great blessing in doing this as a family,” she says. “You get to celebrate each other’s victories and share each other’s burdens. I think God had a very particular calling for our family.”
She and her brother Benjamin believe God calls them to transform the world of the arts for his glory. Along with its own performances of uplifting music, the Annie Moses Band has created a foundation that sponsors musical and performance workshops at an annual festival in Nashville. Since the Annie Moses Summer Music Festival began in 2003, more than 1,500 students from more than 30 states as well as other countries have attended the festival. Meanwhile, the foundation’s scholarship fund has provided almost $300,000 in scholarships to students.
The siblings note musical education has declined all over the country for decades, and that many churches now struggle to find musicians who can actually deliver quality liturgical music. Part of the foundation’s mission is tapping into the talent that so many young people have, but which needs to be nurtured, they say.
“The young people that we’re working with, their minds are quick, and they’re capable of creating these things that are astonishing,” Benjamin says.
Annie notes too much contemporary Christian music is based on imitating secular music trends, which are often out of style when Christians start to use them in their writing. She and her brother half-jokingly quipped that the Church won’t be saved by “male rock bands,” but needs to aggressively create music and other arts programs that introduce young people to a variety of music and performance styles.
“Unless believers decide to live out a life of excellence in the arts,” Annie says, “there will be no way that we can capture the imaginations of this generation.”
You can learn more about the Annie Moses Band at anniemosesband.com.
You can hear Benjamin and Alex Wolaver’s conversion stories on YouTube.