Students connect to the church through the arts at St. Michael’s Choir School

By 
  • March 12, 2010

{mosimage}TORONTO - Angelic voices fill the auditorium at St. Michael’s Choir School on an early Sunday morning.

At 8:30 a.m., Grade 5 and 6 students attend their weekly rehearsal for the 10 a.m. Sunday Mass at St. Michael’s Cathedral. Along with tuning up their pipes, students stand tall and practise the proper enunciation of “Christe” for the “Kyrie Eleison.”

On this day, junior choir conductor Caron Daley encourages the boys to keep their focus on their singing. With guests featuring police officers, firefighters and dignitaries such as Ontario’s Lieutenant Governor David Onley, the annual Police Mass could create some potential distractions for the young students.

But throughout the Mass students kept their composure, sang with confidence and filled the church with the melodious sounds and beautiful harmony that St. Michael’s Choir School students are best known for.

Students like Adam Gauran say their love for singing can become a spiritual experience, reflecting the connection between faith and arts in Catholic schools.

“It just gets me. Whenever I sing in the cathedral or altar serve, I feel much closer to God,” the Grade 5 student told The Catholic Register after the March 7 Mass.

Gauran, 10, also altar serves on Saturdays at St. James Catholic Church. Recently, his interest in faith and arts is being expressed in a new music composition he began writing on Ash Wednesday called “40 Days” about the period when Jesus withstood His trial in the desert.

For 11-year-old William Gatchalian, music has been a family tradition.

“We love to sing in the car and sing all the time,” he said.

Gatchalian hopes to follow in his father’s footsteps. His father is an alumni of the choir school and cantor at St. Brigid’s Church.

Katheryn Trainor, the choir school’s administrative director, says the connection between faith and arts is infused within the school. Its motto, she said, is “Bis Orat Qui Cantat” or “He who sings prays twice.”

“(Students) are using their talents and skills for the praise and worship of God. That’s what we teach the boys in the school,” Trainor said.

“Through the education and time in the school, it affects them and they really come out of the school on their own with a social consciousness and knowledge that they can use their faith and talents for the broader community,” Trainor said.

These lessons seem to be taking root. On March 10, some St. Michael’s Choir School students organized a lunch-time fundraiser for Haiti at First Canadian Place. All proceeds will go to Caritas Internationalis’ post-earthquake relief work.

Meanwhile, at Cardinal Carter Academy for the Arts, the high school’s curricula is also infused with Catholic teachings. Marilyn Grace, chaplaincy team leader, said students explore art through the lens of faith in all their subjects, including music, dance, visual arts and drama.

Students learn to sing and play liturgical music. Meanwhile, visual arts students have created art exploring the seven deadly sins. And the school’s dance teacher has been working with students to dance at the liturgy for Respect for Life Week.

The school’s teachers help students use their creative talents to bring art alive in the liturgies and retreats, Grace added

The school is planning an artistic rendition of Holy Thursday, complete with a recreation of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, through dance and a liturgical setting of the table and Last Supper. Arts students would then start painting Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Soon afterwards, an actor playing Jesus will emerge from behind the canvas and start to pray.

The school’s motto, Grace said, is “Artes dei Gloria” or “Arts for the Glory of God,” and highlights this marriage of arts and faith.

“It taps into what kids are passionate about and what they connect to,” she said. “At a time when they’re struggling with questions about church and faith, they can make a connection to what they can relate to through art.”

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