“The man that hath no music in him,” says Lorenzo in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, “is fit for treason, spoils, and strategems.” Shakespeare, echoing many an ancient sage, saw music as an important component in the good life. This does not mean any kind of music, but more particularly the sort that elevates the better aspirations of the human person.
Traditionally, music was also included as part of the curriculum of a liberal education. In fact, the words muse and museum are drawn from the nine Greek goddesses of the arts.
Aristotle devotes considerable time in his Politics to the role of music in community life, noting its role in forming the content of the imagination. Music was a public thing, to be enjoyed as one of the arts that grace life. Not for Aristotle was the self-enclosed world of the iPod.
At Thomas More College, music forms a regular feature of campus life. In addition to the opportunities provided by the College’s choir, the Saint Gregory Music Guild, and the plainchant component of the Way of Beauty sequence, many students are themselves talented musicians.
Over the past few years, the College has been blessed to have several redoubtable composers acting as choirmaster. In addition to musical direction given by the College’s Artist-In-Residence, Mr. David Clayton, the choir has been led by Dr. Thomas Larson and Mr. Paul Jernberg. While all students during their freshman year learn the rudiments of plainchant in the Way of Beauty program, a further chance to improve proficiency in both plainchant and polyphonic musical settings is available through the weekend workshops offered several times during the academic year. Students learn to master Mass settings and motets by great composers such as Thomas Tallis, William Byrd, and Palestrina, as well as more recent compositions.
As well as singing for the Masses regularly offered on campus, students have been given the chance to contribute to the larger community through the evangelizing power of beauty. More recent opportunities have included the chanting of Vespers at a Veteran’s hospital in nearby Manchester and singing for the Extraordinary Form of the Mass offered at a local parish.
In addition to the important place that Sacred Music affords in the life of Thomas More College, it is easy to find not a few students devoting time to other sorts of music. The most prevalent, at least recently, has been folk music: songs drawn from Ireland, sea shanties, the British Isles, and the American South.
Folk music has proved quite popular on campus—the more so lately, owing to the presence of Saint Gregory the Great Academy over the last semester. Part of the Academy’s curriculum is an education in both sacred and folk music, and for the past year, the young men of the Academy have both sung at campus Masses and started up impromptu music sessions.
Many Thomas More students will join in as well, some sporting guitars, mandolins, fiddles, and drums. At the College’s banquets held on important feast days, singing and instrumental accompaniment often goes on late into the night. The poetic earthiness of folk music and its communal character complements the small nature of Thomas More College, not to mention that it provides a healthy balance to the sustained sublimity of Gregorian chant and Sacred Polyphony.
In the pursuit of the good life, there are certain things that facilitate the human aspiration towards goodness, beauty, and truth. These are, if you will, the sacramentals of life, the products of genuine culture given credence by custom and—in many cases—blessed by the Church. They make the work of going through the straits of life manageable by providing opportunities refreshment and merriment: and they affirm a future object of hope. Within any sound community, these things will be found, among which music plays a central part. At Thomas More College, young people are offered a formation that is not only intellectual, but attending to the whole needs of the person. Music fulfills just such a role.