A student’s reflection on Eastertime in the Folk Choir

In his Easter homily at this year’s student mass, Deacon Brogan Ryan called on the words of Pope John Paul II: “We are an Easter people, and Alleluia is our song.” These words are intended to inspire hope in the face of darkness and joy at the Church’s constant living in the Resurrection. These words also serve as the perfect description of Notre Dame’s own Folk Choir, who fittingly provided the music that framed Deacon Ryan’s words.

A group of 65 undergraduate and graduate students from the Notre Dame, Holy Cross, and St. Mary’s communities, the Folk Choir is a compelling sample of rambunctious yet reverential vocalists and instrumentalists. The choir’s mission is to bridge contemporary and classical sacred music traditions, resulting in a repertoire that is equally unafraid of Mozart, gospel, and intensely percussive tunes. I joined the choir exclusively looking to improve my singing, yet quickly found out how much more the community offered. Easter weekend, one of our busiest times of the year, perhaps best demonstrates the Folk Choir’s special qualities and unique role on campus.

This being my first Holy Week with the choir, I was admittedly wary about the time commitment involved—rehearsals take up nearly 20 hours of the week preceding Easter, and that does not include the various social events that happen outside of practices and performances. But even during a time of year when finals loom, these Holy Week traditions provoke nothing but excitement among choir members; after participating in them, I can see why.

Despite having just completed three hours of rehearsal and performance on Holy Thursday, the choir’s exhausted voices and bodies gathered for a Taizé prayer service in the Lyons Hall chapel. Unlike most of our events, this service was just for us; in the words of the choir’s leadership, Holy Week can be very demanding of its music ministers, and it is important to take time to rejuvenate our relationship with the music, with ourselves, and with each other. Though our energy stores were low, spending an hour singing together brought a new wave of excitement for the long days to come. Case in point, many choir members elected to attend the late-night Tenebrae at the Basilica afterward, my exhausted self included—this marked our seventh hour that day spent in prayer and community.

Though the Folk Choir excels at bringing its members in contact with the joys of spirituality and community, we also know how to have fun; luckily, Easter brings no shortage of either category. Normally, our leadership implores us to wear our “Sunday Best” for each mass and event we perform at. For our Holy Saturday rehearsal, however, everyone was expected to dress up in their “Sunday Worst,” which made for a hysterical ensemble of pajamas, suits worn backwards, and this year, a full-body fox costume not unlike that of a sports mascot. In a prior year, one vocalist even dressed up in full Blue Man Group attire. Easter Sunday brought more camaraderie. The Folk Choir did not perform until the 9 pm student mass this year, our morning was occupied by a complex scavenger hunt around campus, complete with rhyming clues and medievally-styled opening ceremonies (Long Live King Skiff). Though I have heard good things about the Seminary’s Easter party, I am of the popular opinion that ours is well above par.

Music and community of this sort have a remarkable ability to cut through the noise of church bureaucracy and the false imagery of an unsophisticated faith. They put people more directly in touch with the Church, its values and mission, and the feelings of hope and belonging that it intends to inspire. Through the Folk Choir’s radical joyfulness and constant call to community, I have been fortunate enough to experience these benefits. Though I have now been a member of the choir for over a year, I remain entirely bewildered by it; at no other time and in no other place have I witnessed people, music, and fellowship of such a high quality. Though I have never treasured music more, it has become utterly secondary to these relationships and wisdoms that I never expected to find.

It has been a true privilege to witness and take part in these Folk Choir traditions this Easter season, and I can rest easy knowing that the joy, hope, and community will continue long after I am gone. “We are an Easter people, and Alleluia is our song.”

Sean McMahon is senior at Notre Dame studying IT Management. He enjoys playing music with friends, chatting philosophy, and pretending he’s not about to graduate. Contact him at McMahon.100@nd.edu.