A senior reflection on three meaningful Easter tunes

“The night is dark, and I am far from home. Direct my feet; I do not ask to see the distant scene, one step enough for me. So lead me onward, Lord, and hear my plea.”

–“Lead, Kindly Light” by Steven C. Warner; text by Cardinal Newman

As I look forward to graduation, there have been many moments in which memories from the years with this incredible group of talented young individuals have filled me with both joy and sadness. I remember stepping into my role as Folk Choir percussionist in 2017 on the choir’s Heartland tour, and receiving an incredible amount of affirmation and support from my fellow choir members and my percussion mentor, Nick Munsen. I remember saying goodbye to the seniors after the last visit to the Grotto and Basilica loft, and tearfully hugging the men and women that had grown alongside me, taught me, and prayed with me for one year or two. I remember praying “Day is Done” every Thursday night for three academic years after rehearsal. I remember singing “Hallelujah, My Father” from memory during communion; each time I was impacted by this beautiful framing of humanity as the children of God, who put him to death but are paradoxically redeemed by the sacrifice.

In 329 Coleman-Morse after each rehearsal, the lights would go out and the community of friends, students, musicians, and children of God would raise their voices in a manner so unpolitical and so prayerful, that beauty seemed to have the upper hand against my other stressors and cares. Over the years, our weekly commitment to helping the congregation to pray and to realize the encounter with Christ which occurs in the liturgical celebration has afforded me a deeper perspective on just what it means to be a liturgical musician: that it is essential to keep relationship with Christ at the center of our ministerial practice.

As one of Folk Choir’s most important, special, and tradition-filled times of the year, Holy Week expectedly brought with it a mix of emotions for me as a senior. It was on this Easter Sunday at the 9 pm student Mass when many of these emotions were realized and given a voice. The choir loft is the place from which the noise of our prayer issues forth, and on this night it seemed more crowded than usual. I stood alongside my fellow choir members, reflecting on and inviting the congregation to reimagine the events of the Resurrection as both concrete historical events and events that, in some way, transcend time and have meaning for our human state in the world today. There were three particular pieces in which the synergy of lyrics and musical structure was so potent that I was moved to a number of rational and emotional realizations as we sang in the Basilica that night. These three songs have been integral to my Easter experience over the past three years, and were certainly the most poignant opportunities for theological and spiritual reflection for me this past Easter Weekend.

“Jesus Lives:” “Jesus lives; thy terrors, now, can, O Death, no more appall us. Jesus lives, by this we know, thou, o grave, cannot enthrall us. Alleluia.” The musical texture of the instrumental describes the laying of one (Christ) to rest in death, but this instrumental does not end the piece. The fourth verse enters and I was gripped by the profound notion presented therein: that a man, a savior, could die and rise again, and that this historical event has ramifications for my own death. Namely, that perhaps I, too, will one day rise from my state of death.

“Jesus Christ is Risen Today:” This theme of rising with Christ was echoed in our closing hymn: “Died like him, with him we rise; Alleluia. Ours: the cross, the grave, the skies; Alleluia.” Even now as I reflect on this Easter experience, I am both at peace and haunted by this notion: perhaps I, too, will rise one day.

Out of Darkness:” “Let your sadness be no more; Christ has opened heaven’s door. Death has no more power to slay; this is resurrection day! Out of Darkness, God has called us, claimed by Christ as God’s own people. Holy nation, royal priesthood, walking in God’s marvelous light. Amen.” This was perhaps the most powerful and moving song in our Easter repertoire from a musical standpoint, and it filled me with great joy to sing it on Sunday night. However, I was also confronted with the truth that this would be the last time I would sing this song with my beloved Folk Choir. The piece brought with it a certain sense of euphoria alongside feelings of deep fulfillment, and also sadness, as though a sort of tremendous culmination of not just a forty-day Lent but a three-year experience of Folk Choir Easters were drawing to a close at the same time, and it made sense to be a little sad even on such a joyous day.

These songs, these people, and these memories are ones that I will carry with me as I move away next year. I have been blessed beyond measure to be a part of this loving and beautiful community for these past years, and am incredibly grateful to Steve and Karen for all of their intentionality in forming such a loving, affirming, and welcoming choir family. Blessings to all choir members past and present who have contributed in small and large ways to who I am today.

Saint Cecilia, pray for us. Saint Brigid, pray for us. All you holy men and women, pray for us.

Andrew Skiff is a senior studying music and theology at the University of Notre Dame. He enjoys singing, composing, and biking, and has a passion for Sacred Music and the liturgy. Contact him at askiff@nd.edu