Elizabeth Folger and Michael Zubert
July 13, 2019, in Philadelphia
In summer 2008, music led both Liz, from Northeast Philadelphia, and Mike, from Stowe, Montgomery County, to Princeton and Westminster Choir College’s camp for solo vocalists.
Mike spent much of the time he wasn’t singing beneath a tree, reading the poetry of Stephen Dunn. Liz was not impressed. “I thought it was the most ridiculous thing I had ever seen,” she recalls. Mike said Liz made hardly any impression on him at all.
She began her senior year at St. Basil Academy in Jenkintown and he began his at St. Pius X in Pottstown, and they discovered how small Philadelphia’s music world really is. They saw each other when attending friends’ performances, then at college auditions, and then that fall, again at Westminster Choir College, where both were accepted as music education majors.
Liz began to frequent Mike’s dorm room. “She was hanging out with my first roommate, Matt,” Mike said. Liz soon learned there was no chance for romantic advancement with Matt, but Matt, Mike, and Liz all become good friends. And then Mike realized he was interested in Liz, drawn especially to her sarcastic wit.
They had the same early morning math class, which Liz missed so frequently she worried she would fail. “Mike convinced me if I spent more time with him, I would pass,” she said.
“There was a little tutoring and a little flirting. Mostly, I would make sure she got to class,” Mike said.
She passed. They kissed, but kept it casual until that summer, when being apart showed them how much they liked being together. Mike invited Liz down the shore with his family and some other friends. It was there, he asked, “Do we want to be a thing?”
Sophomore year, it was fully on. Junior year, mostly off. Mike was a little freaked out about how serious they were. He needed time to think. Liz was devastated. She thought seriously about transferring. She went to Italy to study instead.
When she returned that summer, they got back together for good. “I knew with certainty, this is right,” Mike said.
The thinking Mike did is an example of why Liz loves him. “He considers everybody’s feelings,” she said. Also, “He’s very smart and hardworking, he’s close to his parents, and has had solid relationships for a long time with really good friends. He brought out the best in me.”
Mike says they are in some ways polar opposites, and he loves that balance. “I often overthink everything and can be indecisive, while Liz makes a decision,” he said. “She’s also really great with talking to people, those she’s known for years, and those she’s sitting next to on a plane for the first time. She has strong friendships that go back to grade school.”
Both graduated from college in 2013 and began teaching. Mike is now choir director at Springfield High School in Springfield, Delaware County. Liz is the music teacher at Walter Miller Elementary School in Levittown. They bought their Fishtown home in 2015, and share it with multiple pets, including permanent residents Brandy, the black lab mix; Hali, the pit bull mix; Maria, a tiny gray cat; and Dorian, a white and gray cat who found them in a McDonald’s parking lot the day they closed on their home. They also take in foster cats and dogs, many of which are hospice patients.
One Wednesday in 2018, Liz had an after-school musical rehearsal, which meant Mike was in charge of dinner. She called when she was close to home, and he said he didn’t feel like cooking, since he had to pack for a student trip the next day. He suggested a happy hour, and let her pick the place: Twisted Tail in Society Hill.
Driving down Delaware Avenue, they arrived at Spruce Street Harbor Park. “Why don’t we stop there after dinner?” Liz suggested.
“Good idea!” Mike agreed. “ Why don’t we do it first?”
“These tall ships aren’t all that tall,” Liz noted as they strolled.
“But look over there, it’s a swan paddle boat!” Mike replied.
While she wasn’t paying attention, he took the ring from his pocket. She turned, and he yelled, “Surprise!”
Her speechlessness made him feel triumphant.
She recovered with a gentle prompt: “Did you ask a question?"
He asked, she said yes, and then they went to dinner, where his best friend, Colette, and her best friend, Kathleen, and Kathleen’s husband Nick, were waiting. So confident was Mike that Liz would choose Twisted Tail, and that she’d want to go to Spruce Street Harbor beforehand, that he had made a timely reservation for five.
The couple, now both 28, were wed at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul, their home church, where Mike is on the choir staff and Liz once directed the children’s choir. Mike’s parents, Teresa and Mark, walked him to the cathedral. The couple filled the sacred space with song: The voices of their many singing friends formed a large choir. A harpist and trumpet player joined the cathedral organist. Mike conducted one of the preludes, “Rise Up, My Love, My Fair One,” a piece the couple performed with their college classmates at Carnegie Hall. They commissioned friend Cortlandt to write a piece especially for their wedding.
Liz walked halfway down the aisle between her mother, Mary, and her brother, Joe, then walked solo the rest of the way to Mike.
They wed in a traditional Catholic ceremony with a Mass. Their choir of friends sang Westminster’s school song, “The Lord Bless You and Keep You,” and then the couple celebrated with 175 guests at the National Museum of American Jewish History, where music again played a prominent role.
Band Sydney kept everyone dancing and singing along all night. Liz danced with her brother and mom to “Stand By Me.” After the cake-cutting, Mike picked up his guitar, and he and Liz sang Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours.”
It wasn’t until nearly go time that Liz was joyfully gobsmacked by the fact that she and Mike were about to be wife and husband. She put on her dress and walked out of the room where her mother; her grandmother, Mary; and her bridesmaids were waiting. “The women I love were all standing there crying,” she remembered. “That was the moment when I thought, ‘Oh my God!’ I’m getting married right now!’” That overwhelming joy crescendoed when she reached Mike at the end of the aisle.
After he and Liz said their vows, they sat near the altar together, holding hands. With the intense emotion of the vows behind them, Mike relaxed and took in the anthems their friends were singing in the choir loft. As the newlyweds walked back up the long aisle together, Mike saw the faces of all their friends and family looking back at them. And then in the back few pews, he saw his students. “It was this cool moment of all of our worlds coming together,” he said. “It was joyous.”
Best bargain: The couple know the owner of caterer Sage because they all volunteer at ACCT Philly animal shelter. “She really hooked us up,” Liz said.
And the company did much of its work without electricity, because an underground fire the night before had cut power to that part of the city.
The splurge: The band, EBE Sydney. “Totally worth it,” said Mike.
Three weeks split between Thailand, where they volunteered at an elephant sanctuary, and Indonesia, where they walked among Komodo dragons.
Officiant: Father Kenneth Brabazon of St. Isidore Catholic Church, Quakertown, Pa.
Ceremony: Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul, Philadelphia
Reception: National Museum of American Jewish History
Food: Sage Catered Events, Berwyn, Pa.
Ceremony music: Choir composed of friends of the couple from Westminster Choir College in Princeton, N.J., and The Cathedral Choir of the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul
Choir director: Charlene Angelini, Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul
Organist: Mark Loria, Philadelphia
Harpist: Andre Tarantiles, Philadelphia
Trumpet: Andrew Kissling, Philadelphia
Composer: Cortlandt Matthews, Philadelphia
Reception Music: EBE Sydney, Philadelphia
Photography: Sarah McKay Photography, Media, Pa.
Videography: New Pace Wedding Films, Ardmore, Pa.
Flowers: Rieh’s Florist, Philadelphia
Dress: Essence of Australia purchased at Le Bella Donna, Jenkintown, Pa.
Hair/Makeup: Mack Stylist, Philadelphia
Groom’s attire: The Black Tux