February Sacred Music Week at GGHS

by Matt Williams

Last week I had the privilege of making another visit to Thomas More College, where the boys of Gregory the Great House of Studies are currently in residence. I am happy to report to everyone that not only are the students doing well in the snowy north, but that the tradition of St. Gregory’s Academy continues to thrive.

I arrived Monday evening to a warm reception from the students and staff. After the pleasantries and a little settling in, we got right to work. With each visit, I try to bring something new into the picture. This week would be no exception, and a surprise for everyone was in store. The students were unaware that I had brought an instrument for everyone to borrow for the week. That instrument would be theirs to practice and learn a tune on until Friday, when we would all get together for something called a “jam session.” With great rapidity the boys chose from a stock of ukuleles, recorders, an Appalacian dulcimer, fife, melodica, and various other instruments. The activity was an instant hit! (More on that later.)

Tuesday was our first big rehearsal, and the boys were immediately receptive to the Sacred Music program I had developed for the week. Within the scope of our first meeting we had already worked through the new 3-Part Mass setting which I had written for them, and gone over several of the Gregorian propers for the Friday Mass. In the evening several of the boys, my “small group” of more advanced singers, willingly skipped out on much of the Mardi Gras festivity just to continue working on the music. Needless to say, that was extremely heartening.

The week continued in the same vein. Each day we had at least 3 hours of rehearsal, and the small group giving an extra hour of free time in the evenings. They became so good by Thursday afternoon that we decided to make some recordings, which you can hear below.

Of course there was much more than music going on throughout the week. The St. Julian’s Juggling Troupe was also preparing for their first big show at the Nashua Public Library, there was a huge Mardi Gras celebration, liturgy on Ash Wednesday, and (of course) classwork. It is quite a thing to see these teenagers handle so much activity at once and with so much success.

The music week culminated with the singing of a Traditional Latin Mass for the Friday After Ash Wednesday. There were some very difficult chants which the boys sang beautifully. We received many compliments and even a spontaneous ovation at lunch initiated by the priest!

Now we come back to the jam session activity. After lunch on Friday we all got together in the students’ dorm. Several of the boys had actually prepared a piece to play but others were struggling. For those less musically inclined a failsafe was miraculously provided. Folk music began to sound from the guitars and ukes while everyone joined in doing their best. It was a great time had by all with much laughter and revelry.

I have to say that the best part of my visit was not an activity, or a particular song we sang, or even the week’s festivities, but the effort on the part of the students in everything we did. They were genuinely excited and motivated to sing challenging music and also to put in the necessary work to do it properly. As a teacher, you really can’t ask for more than that. May God continue to bless the students and staff of Gregory the Great!

Sincerely in Christ,
Matt Williams

Recordings – Both Sacred and Folk