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February 19, 2024

3 tips to help you prepare for Holy Week and Easter liturgies


Preparing the beautiful liturgies of Holy Week and Easter are among the most stressful for music directors. There is so much music! And this year, since Easter is very early, there is less time to prepare.

At a recent workshop during the American Choral Director’s Association (ACDA) NW Regional conference in Spokane, Washington, I joined other conductors to discuss burnout and tools for developing resiliency. After taking the Maslach Burnout Questionnaire, the room of conductors quickly realized the importance of prioritizing our emotional wellbeing.

Burnout is real and it is common for music directors to feel overwhelmed. So, how can music directors avoid feeling physically and emotionally drained during this busy season and enter into the beauty of these gorgeous Holy Week and Easter liturgies?

Repetition! Repetition! Repetition!

You may feel like an underachiever when programming too much repetition from previous years, but no parishioner in the pew is sharing that emotion. Let it go! In fact, it brings comfort to your congregation to sing and hear pieces they are familiar with during Holy Week and Easter. An engaged, singing assembly is among the most moving sounds, in my opinion. Program music they know.

The makeup of my choir has changed post-covid. Some highly skilled choristers moved away or decided not to return. Such changes can cause pieces “in the repertoire” to feel new. Dedicate adequate rehearsal time to both new and well-known pieces. It is when a piece is well-rehearsed and the singers are out of the score that beautiful nuance and interpretation seamlessly flows from the choir. When my pattern is expressive and sensitive rather than movement to simply hold things together, the choral sound is reflected. Once again, repetition! It will reduce stress for you, the conductor, and for the choir.

Study the liturgy

This year I celebrated 30 years as the director of music at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Portland, Oregon. Some things get easier and yet, there are still new challenges. One aspect I have always made a priority is studying and truly knowing the liturgies of Holy Week. I remember like yesterday my first Holy Week and the nerves that accompanied it! Being over prepared for Holy Week and Easter liturgies will never be a regret. Today we have the luxury of watching liturgies from other churches all over the world. Know each liturgy thoroughly and understand the journey we take from Palm Sunday to the Great Easter Vigil. Liturgy must feel seamless. Awkward moments of “what comes next” should never exist. Read the documents. Know the liturgies.

Every Holy Saturday we have a walk-through of the Easter Vigil liturgy. Every year. It is a complex, beautiful liturgy with lots of movement that needs rehearsing. It is not just the music that must be well-prepared for Holy Week and Easter liturgies. If this doesn’t happen in your parish, I strongly encourage you to be the one to organize it. It will help strengthen your knowledge of this intricate liturgy (i.e., remember to ring the bells during the Gloria!) and execute it seamlessly.

Ground yourself in prayer

And perhaps most importantly, don’t forget to spend time on yourself. Spend time alone in prayer. Develop resiliency skills for your emotional wellbeing. Your choir and your parish need you to be present both emotionally and physically – not to be drained and feeling stressed, worried or tired, but to be secure, hopeful, inspired and connected. Get rest. Drink water. Find the inspiration that feeds you. Let the small stuff go and focus on the beauty of the music and these holy liturgies.