Celebrating a Culture of Beauty: A Parent’s Experience of the OLMC Difference

 

The author, Dr. Jeff Billeter, lives with his wife Susanne and daughter Aeolia in Chatham. Dr. Billeter’s primary career is in mathematical research and programming on Wall St, but he has also been an avid musician for many years, ranging from singing in barbershop quartets to serving as a church organist.

The OLMC Twelfth Night Christmas concert was the second for me and my family at OLMC. We attended our first last year as we were considering OLMC for our daughter; I was very impressed then, and I am even more so this year. There seemed to be a significant increase in the vocal skills and comfort level of the students performing, and it was wonderful to see and to hear. Reflecting on the experience, there are some specific reasons we loved the concert so much, as well as the music program at OLMC in general.

Right from the start of the concert, the youngest students were amazing. I’ve experienced many performances in schools and churches with very young children; most of the time, the emphasis seems to be the cuteness on display, regardless of what semblance of music might actually be coming out of the children’s mouths. While there is no denying that the cuteness factor is an important one (to which I am as susceptible as anyone else), I was impressed that those youngest kids at the concert actually sang on pitch. Such an outcome didn’t happen by accident, and it revealed immediately the level of concern and effort that went into developing real musical skill and not just “putting on a show.”

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As the evening continued and the age level of the students performing steadily increased, that initial impression of “musical skill development” rather than mere “cuteness” or “fun” was similarly strengthened. Progressively more complex selections were offered, each performed with precision. We were informed of not just the names of the selections by Ms. Greey, the music teacher who helpfully introduced each selection, but the specific musical skills involved and purposefully practiced. Such a level of concern for meaningful musical education is wonderful to me, and one personally important reason I love OLMC so much.

Many people involved with children’s music seem to think that only “upbeat,” contemporary-sounding selections will be of any interest to the kids (and possibly to the audiences). Any significant musical education seems to be much less important than just getting the kids to sing at a high volume to some rockin’ tunes. I believe such an approach shortchanges children, taking away the opportunity for the lasting “fun” of real achievement and the depth of character that purposeful practice and ultimate success will help develop; without that level of depth, what’s left for the kids but “cheap thrills” that leave them no better afterwards than when they started? Incidentally, that deeper experience need not exclude the simpler form of having a good time; the kids at Twelfth Night seemed to me to be genuinely enjoying what they were doing.

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Form and content are linked in the musical education students receive at OLMC. That night at the concert, I was thrilled to hear selections that reflected our magnificent heritage. As a Catholic convert, it has been a difficult personal struggle for me for many years in my church experience to see beauty, reverence, and transcendence—the best of our musical heritage—increasingly replaced by something far less.

A musician myself, I believe that experiencing such timeless, transcendent musical beauty subtly and over time shapes us in a positive way. Even if the shaping process is unconscious, it’s no less real or powerful. How truly wonderful it is to think of the love of beauty that is being slowly internalized in our OLMC children through concert experiences such as Twelfth Night as well as the constant, daily immersion in OLMC’s very deliberate culture of beauty. That culture is one of the reasons we are grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the OLMC family.

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Our Lady of Mount Carmel is hardly alone in our belief that, as St. Augustine said, “singing is an expression of joy and, if we consider the matter, an expression of love” and deserves the best and most beautiful of which we are capable. Read more about how one Archbishop is shepherding his people to “Sing to the Lord a New Song.