‘Cultivating a sense of beauty’: Fine arts unite at first-ever music, art teacher workshop series at Co-Cathedral

November 8, 2022

At top, music educators from Catholic schools around the Archdiocese rehearse music before a Mass on Oct. 10 at the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. Above, Megan Miller, a music teacher and orchestra director at St. Mary Catholic School in League City, was one of nearly 75 educators attended 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. (Photos by Crista Miller/Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart and James Ramos/Herald

HOUSTON — Inspired to continue Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart’s mission of being a spiritual home to everyone within the Archdiocese, Co-Cathedral leaders collaborated with the Catholic Schools Office to host the first-ever group of workshops for fine arts teachers of Catholic schools from around the Archdiocese.

Art and music teachers joined other educators, like band directors, orchestra leaders and music leaders, for the day-long event held at the Co-Cathedral and the Cathedral Centre in downtown Houston.

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.

Crista 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 said.

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 digital artist Paul Latino and Al Sauls, a traditional painter, that were personally inspiring to the teachers while emphasizing the importance of viewing, learning about, and producing sacred art with their students in Catholic schools, according to Laura Rolo, director of instruction and professional development at the Catholic Schools Office for the Archdiocese. Officials estimated nearly 75 educators attended the workshops that day.

Latino and Sauls showed the attendees how they created 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 daily Mass, which 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,” Crista 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.”

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

Megan Miller, a music teacher and orchestra director at St. Mary Catholic School in League City, 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.

She said she also enjoyed preparing the music for the Mass.

“In that environment, with the beautiful acoustics and under Crista Miller and Patrick Schneider’s direction, and just with other skilled and trained musicians in that beautiful place was just amazing,” she said.

At the encouragement of Father Jeff Bame, rector and pastor of the Co-Cathedral, Crista Miller said the Co-Cathedral was exploring additional ways to bring Catholic school students to the Co-Cathedral to experience music in a new and unique way, blending both the visual artistry and the science behind the Co-Cathedral’s Pasi Op. 19 organ and music.

Crista Miller said the music department at the Co-Cathedral was looking forward to the upcoming Advent season, which would kick off a series of events that are open to the public, such as Sung Vespers for the first Sunday of Advent on Nov. 27 at 4:30 p.m. before the 5:30 p.m. Mass at the Co-Cathedral.

Then a “Lessons and Carols” event will feature the Co-Cathedral’s Cor Jesu and Schola Cantorum choirs on Dec. 15 at 7 p.m. On Dec. 21 at 7 p.m., the same choirs will host their annual Christmas concert, also at the Co-Cathedral.

In addition, the Co-Cathedral hosts a continuing series of First Friday organ recitals, featuring local university Organ students playing the Pasi Op. 19 organ following the 12:10 p.m. daily Mass from 12:45 to 1:15 p.m., with the next recitals set for Dec. 2 and Jan. 6, 2023.

For more information about the Co-Cathedral’s upcoming events, visit www.sacredhearthouston.org/music-2 or email musicoffice@sacredhearthouston.org. †