Art, music, theater thrive at local Catholic schools

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EAST PROVIDENCE — At a time when many schools are cutting programs in visual arts, choir, band and theater, Catholic schools around the Diocese of Providence continue to see the value in what creative and musical expression has to offer a student.

Throughout the state, visual arts flourish at Catholic schools such as The Prout School in Wakefield, which offers an art department that encourages its students to explore and develop their creative talents.

“The Prout School’s art program is somewhere I have developed greater as an individual, and experimented more than ever before,” said Derek DiClemente, grade 12.

“The visual arts program allows students to express themselves in an individualistic way, and connect with their artistic side,” said Mariah King, grade 10.

Bishop Hendricken High School is one of few schools in the nation to boast an honors Arts Academy program that allows student artists to study their craft for the entirety of their school career. Between the Arts Academy, elective course opportunities, and extracurricular groups, about 50 percent of the student body is actively involved in one or more arts programs each school year.

Singing is good for the soul, as Pope Francis recently said to more than 6,000 young choristers, their families, friends and choirmasters from 18 countries in Rome. “St. Augustine says a beautiful phrase, and everyone should learn it. Speaking on Christian life, on the joy of Christian life, he says: ‘Sing and walk.’ Christian life is a path, but it is not a sad path, it is a joyous path, and this is why one must sing.”

The words of the Holy Father and St. Augustine are echoed in the spirit of those involved Catholic school’s musical arts programs.

Philip Desrosiers, music specialist and band director at Sacred Heart School, East Providence, is also the president of the National Catholic Band Association. Desrosiers firmly believes that total immersion through performance is one of the best methods to teach music and have fun.

“We’ve grown a band culture at Sacred Heart School where rhythm instruments, recorders and the band’s woodwinds, brass, and percussion are part of everyday life. About 60 percent of eligible students are in the band. They simply learn music reading and music appreciation better by participating in a ‘hands-on’ class. The results have been a number of students being part of their church and community bands. Both our school chorus and band students have used their talent at school liturgies. Students at Sacred Heart School can begin band instruments in grade 3.”

Eighth-graders Saylor Costa and Mei Tiemeyer, explain that being members of the Sacred Heart School band has allowed them to have a much deeper appreciation and understanding of music.

“I really became one with this band,” said Costa. “This band brings the term musical family to reality.”

“Becoming part of the Sacred Heart School band taught me more about teamwork, but also allowed me to express myself musically,” Tiemeyer explained. “In the band, I was able to focus on improving not only my own skills, but also the performance of the rest of the band. That is what helps all of us, the team effort.”

For Francesca Conlon, a seventh-grader at St. Margaret School, East Providence, music class has helped to build life skills and give her confidence.

“Performing in front of others helps us to prepare for public speaking. Singing with a group teaches the importance of teamwork, listening and discipline,” she said. “Putting lessons to a song is a great way to study. That is how we all learned our ABCs. Music helps us to appreciate different styles, cultures, and people. Music class is important because it teaches us skills that we will need for the rest of our lives.”

Angela Ranucci, a fifth-grader at Father John V. Doyle School, Coventry, feels that being part of the choir has helped improve her singing.

“I have also made everlasting friendships and it fills my days with much happiness,” she said.

For Marissa Liotta, a senior at Mount Saint Charles Academy in Woonsocket, theater has been a huge part of her life.

“As a senior who has been doing theater at Mount since seventh grade, I can honestly say I have no idea what my life would be like if I had not had the experiences that I have had with the drama department,” she said. “Not only has the environment in the drama department helped me become a better performer and given me a way to express myself, it has also provided me with great friendships and memories that I do not think I could have gotten anywhere else. It may sound slightly cliché, but I would not be the person I was today if it was not for the theater program.”