Rome: The Notre Dame Folk Choir’s Passion Project

The Folk Choir serves the University of Notre Dame as one of the principal liturgical choirs, singing every Sunday during the academic year at the 11:45 a.m. liturgy in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. Members of the choir come from a variety of academic disciplines, but are brought together by a shared love of music and a desire to practice, explore, and share their faith.

Read the event recap, watch the video, or listen to the podcast below.


Highlights

  • The Folk Choir’s Passion project is a 90-minute, performed piece of music that is sung, spoken, and acted, and focuses on Jesus’ passion. 
  • “[The Passion project] is the choir’s expression of what it means to live the Passion” (Wright 32:20)
  • “Ultimately I wanted to show that [they] are two people we can relate to in our lives. Two people who could really only stand there as someone they loved took on immense suffering” (Uyen 24:00)
  • “Once I was able to get past making sure everything was perfect and just writing from the heart, things got a lot easier” (Maria 35:00)

Recap

In the final edition of the Rome Global Gateway’s Lenten Music Throughout the Ages, J.J Wright, Director of the University of Notre Dame Folk Choir was joined by Librettist Tristan Cooley and students from the Notre Dame Folk Choir. Wright, Cooley and the students discussed the choir’s “Passion Project”, a project that the folk choir has been working on for three years. 

Cooley describes the Passion project as a “process”, saying that it has been written, rewritten, and experimented with over the course of the past three years. Cooley’s role, he said, is to compile material that has been written by the choir and distill it into a “90-minute, performed piece of music that is sung, spoken, and acted” (16:18). Wright added that “as a composer, the Passion is very difficult to tackle. Most of us don’t want to look at the suffering and death of another person. Being a cornerstone of the Christian faith makes it all the more confusing” (17:02). The students in the choir, have therefore had the difficult task of taking scenes from the passion, figuring out what they mean to them, and then turning those feelings into pieces of music. The result is “the choir’s expression of what it means to live the Passion” (32:20). 

One student, Uyen, spoke about her piece which is inspired by John and Mary at the foot of the cross. “The reason why I chose these two figures was because […] they are two of the greatest saints of catholicism, but because of this I felt a bit of a disconnect. I thought, “[they’re] perfect how are they feeling at this moment?” And I think at this particular moment that perfection breaks. Ultimately I wanted to show that [they] are two people we can relate to in our lives. Two people who could really only stand there as someone they loved took on immense suffering” (24:00).  Uyen wanted to explore what that experience “looks like in the lives of college students as well as in the life of the average catholic”. Uyen went on to reflect on the difficulties of capturing the voices of the two characters in a meaningful way, but that ultimately she is proud of her work, which is a modern-day pop duet that she feels people can resonate with. 

The group then discussed the long and arduous “process” that the Passion project has been. Michael reflected on his experience saying that “looking at a text, figuring out what I love about it, and then finding out how to express [through music] is hard”. Maria added that a big part of the writing process is having an emotional connection to the piece. “Once I was able to get past making sure everything was perfect and just writing from the heart, things got a lot easier” (35:00). Hannah said that as an English major, it has been “so cool to look at scripture through a literary lens and to find artistic routes to interpret it” (38:00). 


View the discussion recorded on Wednesday, March 31, 2021, with J.J. Wright, special guests Tristan Cooley and students from the Notre Dame Folk Choir.


Listen to the discussion wherever, whenever, on The ThinkND Podcast:


Other recaps:

Register to participate in future discussions.

Art and HistoryReligion and PhilosophyArt HistoryCatholic ChurchChristian TraditionCollege of Arts & LettersHistoryItalyJ.J. WrightMusicNotre Dame Folk ChoirRomeRome Global GatewaySacred Music