Catholic school art, music teachers find inspiration, camaraderie at event

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Megan Miller, a music teacher and orchestra director, teaches during an Aug. 12, 2019, class session at St. Mary Catholic School in League City, Texas. Miller was one of nearly 75 educators to attend a recent continuing education and development day for art and music teachers hosted by the Catholic Schools Office and the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Houston. CNS photo/James Ramos, Texas Catholic Herald

HOUSTON. Art and music teachers joined other educators, like band directors, orchestra leaders and music leaders, for a series of workshops that inspired them personally and emphasized the importance of viewing, learning about, and producing sacred art with their students in Catholic schools of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

In a first for the archdiocese, leaders at the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Houston worked with the archdiocese’s Catholic Schools Office to host a daylong event for these educators at the co-cathedral and the Cathedral Center.

Organizers said the recent workshops also were a way to promote the mission of a cathedral to be a spiritual home to everyone within a diocese or archdiocese.

Music teacher workshops covered a variety of topics as well, led by Crista Miller, director of music at the co-cathedral and cathedral organist, Patrick Schneider, assistant choir director, and other co-cathedral music staff leaders.

Miller said music and art teachers often become “islands” at their schools, noting that they are usually teaching a broad range of ages and classes by themselves.

The day was an effort to end such isolation, she told the Texas Catholic Herald, the archdiocesan newspaper. Officials estimated that nearly 75 educators attended.

A pre-workshop survey helped organizers prepare session discussion topics, as well as find out how the teachers can learn from and support each other.

Art teachers attended sessions led by Houston digital artist Paul Latino and Al Sauls, a traditional painter.

They showed the attendees how they create their artwork, with Sauls doing a live painting demonstration and displaying a work-in-progress, officials said

The art teachers also had the chance to paint during the workshop, with some attendees saying it had been a long time since they had created their own artwork themselves.

The day culminated with a Mass that featured worship and music led by the music teachers in attendance, including nine different instruments – two saxophones, a violin, a drum kit, and more – all played by the teachers.

“It was a diverse orchestra,” Miller said.

Especially with musicians, she said, “if you demonstrate passion in front of a group of people, a lot of the mechanics and logistics take care of themselves. If we’re inspired, we’re good in front of others. And the best way I know to do that is to make music myself and to have an experience where we’re going to make music.”

The music for that Mass featured a polyphony, which is a type of harmonized singing that was rehearsed just five minutes before Mass.

“It was a reminder that they’re capable of doing (challenging work),” Schneider said. “If you’re working with kids all the time, you might always think of music taking a long time to ‘bake’ before it’s ready to go. But these teachers are all accomplished musicians themselves, and they’re capable of probably more than what they get to do with their kids every day.”

Miller found that the needs of the teachers varied, with some just starting their music programs and others needing help with music for liturgies.

Megan Miller, a music teacher and orchestra director at St. Mary Catholic School in League City, Texas, said she was thrilled to meet and learn from other music education peers.

That day Megan Miller encountered the co-cathedral as a spiritual home for herself and the other educators, both during the Mass and during the workshops. She said those sessions were helpful in offering new ideas and other concrete ways, such as a unified music curriculum for Catholic schools, to teach music in her own classroom.

“The effort showed how we can be cultivating a Catholic identity into our music programs (at Catholic schools),” she said. The workshop was a reassurance from the archdiocese that what they were doing was important, valued, and a reminder that “what we’re doing is at a high level,” she said.

And especially after the COVID-19 pandemic splintered choirs and churches around the world in 2020, Megan Miller said she sees her students are excited to gather for any kind of music.

“We are cultivating a sense of beauty in the kids and how it connects to God, and that sacred music is one of the best ways to pray and connect with God,” she said.

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