Asked to play a song on the spot, senior Elizabeth “Liz” Tkacik does not hesitate but immediately starts to move her fingers over the familiar keys of the piano, rain jacket still on over her casual-but-still-very-put-together outfit. Her voice melds with the notes, neither one overpowering or overshadowing the other, voice and piano working together to create a small symphony in the darkened Fireside Lounge.
Her voice is confident and sure yet simultaneously gentle as she plays a song she wrote based on the prayer of the Hail Holy Queen. “I would always prefer singing. … I’ve just always connected with it more,” said Tkacik authentically. “It’s so much easier to just be personal through singing than it is through instruments.”
Tkacik’s talent is undeniable, but it is this personable quality, this ability to communicate truths through music with the aid of the Holy Spirit, that makes her excel at what she does.
This is now Tkacik’s second year in her position as student head of Music Ministry, a rare event in campus history. Theresa Jurasko, coordinator of Music Ministry and Tkacik’s boss, said that Tkacik had all the qualities she looks for in choosing a student head, “not only musical talent, but … a good sense of liturgy and love of the liturgy … (somebody) able to work well with others and lead others.”
These expectations are carried down through Music Ministry on all levels. As student head, Tkacik listens to all student auditions for music groups and ultimately has the final say in creating music teams. Of course talent is a key factor, but, Tkacik said, “for me, the most important thing is that they do understand the way the liturgy works and they’re not going to try to make it about themselves.”
Lilly Hidalgo, a current music lead at the university, said Tkacik teaches this to all of the music ministers. “She encourages us to really pray what we play and shows us how to do it by example,” Hidalgo said.
Jurasko explained why this aspect is so important to have in a student head of Music Ministry. Jurasko said, “Music is supposed to be the handmaid of the liturgy. Music is not about us, music is always about the focus on Jesus, and what is appropriate, and what is beautiful, and Liz has that heart.”
Tkacik said that, while in other times of sharing her talent of music she might be more concerned with technique, when it comes to the playing music within the liturgy, “I’m not so concerned with the musicality of it, I’m much more concerned with ‘Am I praying? Is my team praying?’ And if so, the Holy Spirit is going to work because that’s the point of this.”
Following the promptings of the Holy Spirit is a consistent theme for Tkacik in leading music, both within the liturgy as well as within the context of praise and worship. “My goal is to facilitate an environment of prayer for everyone as specifically as I can … following the promptings of the Spirit for the body because different people pray in different ways,” said Tkacik.
One of Tkacik’s close friends, Megan Reznicek, often experiences the fruit of Tkacik’s gift in times of personal praise and worship. “There’s something about Liz, not just her talent for music but the whole shebang of being able to lead us, to help us to enter into worshipping God … giving us the right mindset and prayerful atmosphere,” said Reznicek, a quality that is not just a talent but a God-given gift.
Tkacik learned the importance of following the Holy Spirit in a large way through being the music leader of Festivals of Praise (FOP) during her semester abroad in Austria. “I really learned how to make it not about me, including my mistakes,” Tkacik said. Although profoundly talented at leading music, Tkacik first struggled to lead the Festivals of Praise because she felt her gifts were more suited for music within the liturgy. However, at the request of the music directors there, Tkacik agreed to help out.
After the first FOP, she and the rest of her team discussed how they felt it had not gone as well as it could have. “I took all this fault upon myself. There were no disasters, it was just like, ‘Did we really follow the Holy Spirit?’ and I almost quit,” Tkacik said. “But I really learned my music is not for myself and it’s not about myself. … Primarily it’s for the Church.”
After personally experiencing growth in her gift through perseverance and handing it over to God, Tkacik is able to call that same process out of the music leaders whom she is in charge of. Jurasko notices this in her student head. “Her strength is her leadership and her ability not only to bring out the best in others but to work well with others,” Jurasko said. Tkacik is able to do this not because she has musical talent but because she has a heart for others, which inclines her to meet them where they are and to know when and where to encourage them.
Hidalgo said that Tkacik has definitely empowered her as a musician. Hidalgo had only been playing music for a year when Tkacik personally approached her and asked her to be a music lead. “I just freaked out because I didn’t feel ready to be a lead and probably wasn’t,” said Hidalgo, “but she was just so encouraging and so kind and just really uplifted me.”
“I remember I did a piano solo on Good Friday and when it came time for me to start the song, she just looked at me and she was like, ‘whenever you’re ready’ and just looked at me like she just knew, she knew that I could do it,” Hidalgo said fervently, her eyes wide in remembering the gravity of that moment. “That just built me up so much and she just constantly reminded us of how real grace is in the liturgy and that I don’t need to be afraid … because even if I make a mistake, Jesus is still present,” Hidalgo said.
Inspiring leadership in others is a steady goal for Tkacik. “I try to give everyone as much opportunity as possible to lead things … because most of the musicians in Music Ministry are also musicians at their home parishes and if they can learn and grow here, that will definitely positively impact parishes at home,” Tkacik said.
It was the music group at her own home parish in high school that actually spurred Tkacik’s personal conversion. “I was like ‘if I have to go to Mass I might as well sing because I like to sing,’” Tkacik said, impersonating a comedic, high-falsetto interpretation of her high school self. “That’s how I first met the people who actually showed me what love is.”
“Very tangibly, literally, music is what caused ultimately me to convert. … Ever since then it’s been so easy to give my whole self to God while I’m singing,” said Tkacik.
Although the conversion to living an authentic Christian life did not come until high school, Tkacik said she has known since a very young age that music would always be an important part of her life. “I literally don’t remember a time in my life before I did music,” Tkacik said.
Tkacik has been taking piano lessons since age 4 and voice lessons since age 5. Her mother apparently noticed Tkacik had a talent that needed to be cultivated after the two of them had watched “The Sound of Music” a couple of times and little Liz walked right over to her play piano and plunked out the melody to “Do-Re-Mi.”
Reznicek affirms that music will most probably continue to play a large role in Tkacik’s life. “It’s always going to be a gift that is present and open to the world, so I’m excited to see what happens with that,” Reznicek said.
Tkacik is planning on being a missionary in Russia the summer after she graduates, but after that, her long-term goal is to one day work for the Vigil Project, a community of artists who create music, share resources and put on retreats for parishes as well as other music leaders.
Although there are no firm plans in place to lead to that dream job, there is a certain peace about Tkacik as she thinks about her future, definitely stemming from her recognition of where her gift comes from. “It’s not about me, I’m not the one doing the work. The Holy Spirit is,” said Tkacik.