A first-hand look into the choir’s busiest week of the year

The Notre Dame Liturgical Choir completed a full week of rehearsals, liturgies, and a performance of Mozart’s Requiem during Holy Week. In total, this amounted to roughly 30 hours of singing.  

The choir sang at the 10 a.m. Palm Sunday Mass. The choir then performed the Requiem in the basilica that evening. After a few more days of rehearsals, the choir began the Triduum with the service of Tenebrae on Holy Thursday. Following a morning rehearsal, the choir sang for the 3 p.m. liturgy on Good Friday. At the height of the Triduum, the choir sang for the 3-hour Easter Vigil in the basilica, and then they returned just a few hours later to sing for 10 a.m. Easter Sunday Mass. To close out Holy Week, the choir sang at Evening Vespers in the basilica on Easter Sunday. 

Every singer in the choir shared in the common exhaustion of Holy Week, struggling through a lack of sleep and a mountain of assignments. Soprano Caroline Gramm told the Rover, “The rehearsals are brutal sometimes. We’ve certainly outgrown the choir loft. It feels like tech week if you’ve ever done theater—the exhausted, slap-happy excitement.” 

However, the camaraderie and fellowship present in the choir is more apparent during Holy Week than any other week of the year. Gramm shared, “What better way to experience Holy Week than in community? There is no other group with which I’d rather spend my time. Our yearly traditions like praying Stations of the Cross around St. Joseph’s Lake on Good Friday as well as screaming our favorite anthems from the week at the top of our lungs at our Easter party all make the rehearsals go a little faster.”

The music that the Liturgical Choir sings during Holy Week varies drastically in scope, posing an immense challenge to the singers. The Good Friday service is comprised entirely of music accompanied only by harp or without accompaniment entirely—the grand Murdy Family Organ is silent from the end of Tenebrae on Holy Thursday until the Gloria of the Easter Vigil. 

Sophomore Maddie Colbert commented, “I thought that the Lit Choir’s performance during Holy Week was amazing. I attended the Tenebrae service for the first time, and the intentionality and intensity of the music and psalms chosen definitely helped me to be more present and to truly contemplate how Jesus was feeling in the hours leading up to His passion.”

This year, the choir took on two particularly challenging pieces of music: Samuel Barber’s “Agnus Dei” for the Good Friday service and John Rutter’s “Most Glorious Lord of Life” at both the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday Mass. Each of these pieces presented a unique challenge to the choir. 

Barber’s “Agnus Dei” required careful listening to the other vocal parts while maintaining a consistent tempo, and Rutter’s “Most Glorious Lord of Life” required careful attention to mixed meter, a musical technique that incorporates measures of varying lengths. However, both pieces brought the choir a sense of accomplishment and fellowship as all knew that without teamwork those pieces would not have come together as they did. 

Colbert shared, “I also attended the 10 a.m. Easter Sunday Mass, and their singing truly reflected the joy in celebrating the Resurrection. It also made me appreciate being a part of such a wonderful community to participate in Holy Week with.” 

Just before Easter Sunday Mass, director Andrew J. McShane shared a quote with the choir, attributed to the late Dr. Gail Walton, previous director of the Liturgical Choir: “We sang a beautiful Easter Vigil last night, and we have been singing beautifully throughout the Triduum, but sitting there in those pews are a thousand people who have not heard us sing a note. Let’s make this Mass beautiful for them just as we did for everyone last night.” 

Madeline Huie is a sophomore majoring in classics, theology, and music performance. She also sings with the Liturgical Choir. If you also enjoy drinking coffee, writing four essays (and this article) in as many days, or stress-cleaning everything in sight, contact her at mhuie@nd.edu.

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Photo Credit: Jack Griffiths