When I first laid eyes on Rev. Darryl Jefferson seated at the Klavinova keyboard in Holy Ghost Church in Opelousas, the distinct impression beamed back to me of a professional who knew his way around the world of music, and also of a congenial man whose welcoming eyes invited one and all to be a part of the liturgy.
That first impression turned out to be unerringly accurate as I was gradually exposed to the inspiration and charm of his mastery of the keyboard. His ability to play virtually anything in the tried-and-true key that I barked out at random to lead the congregation in song at any moment during the homily added zest to the Word of God and to the delighted smiles of the ever-expectant congregation. Through the Klavinova, he was definitely and devotionally complicit in executing that sage observation attributed to the great Saint Augustine, “One who sings prays twice.”
A singer can be deeply inspirational, as can a masterful musician. Together, they can be pure spiritual dynamite. We are not dismissing for even a moment the great power of the spoken word, especially from the mouths of those who speak in the wondrous picture words of raw reality and poetic otherworldliness. But we are affirming the obvious joyous leap from spoken to sung in which we take delight.
For one thing, as our tongue, lips and pipes move from speaking to singing, we feel an intensifying of our thought, our pure intention, our rapt attention, our meaning, our emotions, our dedication to the purpose at hand, and our immersion and total involvement in sharing the Word of God with as many people as possible.
The Second Vatican Council taught that, “liturgical worship is given a more noble form when the divine offices are celebrated solemnly in song, with the assistance of sacred ministers and the active participation of the people.” When the sacred liturgy is sung, it becomes more beautiful, and more reflective of the beauty of the Most Blessed Trinity.
Christians have sung in sacred liturgy since the Church’s earliest days. At the completion of the Last Supper, we are told in Matthew 26:30, “After singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.” So Jesus sang with his apostles immediately before entering into his terrible agony in the Garden of Olives.
The Jews, of course, have had a tradition of singing in their sacred liturgy at least from the time of King David in 1000 BC. David was one filled with music amid the frequent pathos of his psalms, as we hear in Psalm 27:6 and two score others.
Even ever-patient Job in his misery was asked by God in Job 38:4,7, “Were you there when I founded the earth… while the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?”
Paul blesses us in Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
In the spirit of this biblical and liturgical context, Rev. Darryl Jefferson plied his Baptist-bred trade in a Catholic Church. And ply it he did! As I sometimes put it, we can say that his musical renditions were done in a Batholic style!
There were those special moments when Brother Jefferson heard me refer to certain renditions by jazz brass bands in New Orleans. Pressing the buttons that programmed that sound into the Klavinova, he proceeded to imitate the brass band sound of Li’l Iza Jane that we had baptized into our own sound of “Come little sister, just take my hand; Jesus is Lord! Come with me to the Promised Land; Jesus is Lord!
Alleluia, Jesus is Lord! Alleluia, Jesus is Lord!” A couple of rounds led to delirium.
Then there were similar Klavinova renditions of “When the saints go marching in” and the rousing “Shake the devil off!” that set everyone on fire. Our head musician also made inspiring liturgical fashion statements. A big eye-opener was his loud pink Jacket on Rejoicing (Gaudete) Sunday in Advent and Rejoicing (Laetare) Sunday in Lent. He likewise had an off-purple jacket for Advent and Lent. At times he dressed casual, but on occasion he wore the long dress coat that one sees worn on the occasions of musical recitals or formal performances. For the most part, he usually wore a simple dress suit appropriate for Sunday services.
Diagnosed with stage-four cancer toward the end of 2016, Brother Jefferson kept right on playing for God and us without complaint until virtually the bitter end.
Ending a two-year discernment, he had Father Rofinus receive him into the Church, confirm him and give him the Eucharist. He holds a special place in our hearts.
Rev. Jerome LeDoux, SVD
“God is love, and all who abide in love abide in God and God in them.” (1 John 4:16)