Santa Clara Magazine

Dueling Pianists

Dueling Pianists

By Alicia K. Gonzales ’09

For Claire’s processional, Chris wrote parts for the couple’s mutual music ministry friends, incorporating violin, trumpet, flute, piano, classical sax, and oboe. Photo by Tory Jacob Photography
Chris Wemp ’12, M.A. ’18 and Claire Kunkle ’14 met through the piano bench of the Mission—neither wanted to cede the seat to the other. But as fellow music ministry interns and choir singers, they soon fell in love making music that celebrated their faith.

While Chris was studying abroad at Casa de la Solidaridad in El Salvador, Claire joined music ministry and began playing piano to accompany the liturgies. Upon his return, both kept eyeing the other and wondering, “Who’s this other person at the piano bench?” It didn’t take long for a romance to blossom.

A liturgical composer, Chris penned original music for the nuptial Mass and collaborated with Greg Shultz, SCU’s director of liturgy and music, on additional arrangements. For Claire’s wedding processional, Chris composed the song “Woven Together,” which he kept as a surprise until that day.

“I wanted to write something that felt unique and original to the nature of our relationship and captured its roots, colors, and connections beyond our initial spark,” he says. “The variety of instruments present in the piece represents our diversity of interests, community friends, and dreams that we have been able to share with each other while still upholding our own senses of self.” The resulting song captured a moment not soon forgotten: Due to a severe health condition, Claire’s father escorted her down the aisle in a wheelchair. He passed away just a month later.

Alongside Fr. Engh, Fr. Tad Terembula from neighboring St. Clare Parish co-celebrated the Mass. Austin Nickel ’12 served as best man and Maza Brady ’14 as maid of honor.

“The sacrament of marriage is something we not only share together, but a call to turn outward to the larger community and give back,” says Chris.

In addition to serving as director of professional development programs at SCU, Chris works at St. Clare Parish as a music coordinator and is completing his master’s in theology at the Jesuit School of Theology. Claire is finishing up her doctorate in mechanical engineering at UC Berkeley and regularly visits local schools to help empower young women to become scientists.

This summer, the couple is heading to Peru for their honeymoon, with plans to visit the special towns and people Chris met on a previous trip researching the roles liturgical music plays in the Mass, the communal call for justice, and in celebrations of faith.

“I hope to continue to learn from the communities I visit and rethink how we provide liturgical music in America.”

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