Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
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Holy Names Sisters continue their Inland Northwest legacy of music education
Story and photo by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff
(From the Nov. 15, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)
Holy Names Sister Anna Weisner is a harpist with the New Horizons Orchestra at Holy Names Music Center, Spokane. The Sisters have a long history of music education. (IR photo)
In 1888, five Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary arrived in Spokane from Portland, Ore., to open a Catholic elementary school. Before the end of the first school year, the Sisters were also giving piano lessons, and this was no coincidence. For the Sisters of the Holy Names, education in music and the arts has been an essential part of their ministry since the founding of their congregation in Canada, in 1843, by Blessed Marie-Rose Durocher.
After 74 years, the Sisters closed Fort Wright College in 1982, but one part of the college refused to give up the ghost. The Music Department reinvented itself, becoming Holy Names Music Center (HNMC) so the music education mission of the Sisters of the Holy Names could continue. The Music Center still resides in a stately old 19th-century brick army officers’ quarters on the campus of what is now Mukogawa Fort Wright Institute, the American branch of Nishinomiya, Japan’s, Mukogawa Women’s University. Each year, groups of young Japanese women spend 12 weeks on the campus as an immersion experience in American language, society, and culture.
Today, five Sisters of the Holy Names are active in various ways in HNMC’s ongoing mission. Two are members of the board of directors. Two teach dozens of piano and cello students of all ages, and one is a member of HNMC’s New Horizons Orchestra, which welcomes adults learning an instrument for the first time or returning to one after years away from it. HNMC also sponsors a New Horizons Chorus and a New Horizons Bluegrass Band.
Holy Names Sister Kay Eberling teaches “30-something” piano students at Holy Names Music Center. “My youngest (student) is 5,” she said, “and my oldest one is 65. I have students who are parents of kids six, seven years old who are taking lessons, and (the parents) say, ‘I want to learn, too.’”
Sister Kay has been a piano teacher since she was in college, teaching both privately and in public schools in the Nine Mile area before entering Religious life.
From 1975-1980, Sister Kay was on the music faculty at Holy Names College, teaching piano, music theory, and choral conducting. After leaving to get a master’s degree, in 1995 she returned from other assignments to teach at the present HNMC.
She also sings with the Spokane Chorale, which she described as “one of my big loves,” and with another teacher also works with the Mukogawa students’ vocal ensemble, which travels, performs, and raises awareness of the Japanese school’s program. “We’ve sung at the Davenport (Hotel), we’ve sung at various places throughout town, and (the Japanese girls) are singing in English,” she said. “Recently we sang the Offertory for the service” at the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John in Spokane.
In recent years, several Holy Names Sisters who were “real leaders in music” passed away, she said. “It’s kind of an awesome responsibility to think of carrying on … It’s an awesome position to be in, and we certainly don’t feel capable of doing all the things that they led us into. The (Holy Names) Music Center has stood for really good, quality education. I think it has a real future. I think it’s the only place in town that has that kind of caliber and that kind of quality of so many musicians, other than a college faculty. When people are looking for good quality education in any of the instruments, or vocal lessons, Holy Names Music Center is there. And for adults who are interested in singing in a chorale, the New Horizons Chorale is there. All of the New Horizons programs are a real asset that was never there before.”
Holy Names Sister Anne Weisner is now in her fourth year playing harp in Holy Names Music Center’s New Horizons Orchestra.
“Music and the arts have always been a part of what the Holy Names Sisters have done,” Sister Anna said. The Sisters “would teach music, but they would always be about improving their own musical knowledge and skills, too.”
Sister Anna has been a music educator herself since before she became a Holy Names Sister. After entering Religious life she was “automatically made a music teacher,” she said. “I took piano lessons starting in first grade, and when I was a junior in high school I began the harp.”
For now, she plays on a borrowed Celtic harp which “isn’t really appropriate for an orchestra,” in hopes that the future holds a regular pedal harp. “It’s amazing how many harpists are in this area,” she said. “It’s very interesting; I love the tone of a harp.”
Holy Names Sister Karen Conlin has been teaching cello at Holy Names Music Center since 1980, when it was still part of Fort Wright College. She has “about 25” students, she said, each of whom receives private instruction, then once a month, for the younger children, a group lesson. In addition to averaging five students a day, Sister Karen also plays cello with the Spokane Symphony Orchestra.
She believes that HNMC has a bright future on the horizon. “Right now we have a very good executive director” in Michael Delaney. “A lot of people still don’t know about (Holy Names Music Center),” she said, “which is amazing to me, but it seems very healthy right now. We have the best board we’ve ever had – they’re active and involved, and (those on the board) are some pretty savvy people. I see a strong future.”
Serving on the board of directors of Holy Names Music Center is Holy Names Sister Celine Steinberg. “We have been trying really hard to get a great working board that can really help us, not only support us financially, but support the program,” she said. “For me, music is our legacy. I call Holy Names Music Center Spokane’s premier music school. Scholarships are a big thing because we want music to be for everyone, but a lot of people don’t even know it exists.”
Chairing the scholarship committee at Holy Names Music Center is Holy Names Sister Anne Bosserman, who has been on this committee for eight years. “Each year financial aid is offered,” she explains, “especially for people who are of low income, and we’ve always done that. The scholarship money comes from donations, from outside, and also there’s an endowment fund that was established by the father of one of the Sisters, when he died. Usually the scholarships are awarded for the private lessons, and there are also talent grants that students try out for in the spring.”
Sister Anne graduated from Fort Wright College of the Holy Names with a B.A. in Performance Arts. “I think the future of the music center is very promising, and I think it’s essential that we have music. There are outstanding teachers there, totally outstanding. Many of them play in the (Spokane) Symphony. It’s a matter of getting the word out and letting people know that it’s there,” she said.
Michael Delaney, executive director of Holy Names Music Center, is high on the Holy Names Sisters and their ongoing involvement there. “The Sisters bring a unique flavor to the way we do business,” Delaney said. “There is compassion and kindness involved and a real passion for trying to find the greater good in everybody. As members of the board of directors, they bring that forward in our meetings and provide some balance in case things are starting to look like we’re drifting one way or another. Their approach is so respectful and dignified, and that carries over into everything else. As teachers, they have been this model that is set forth for everyone else who is here.”
Holy Names Sister Ann Pizelo is the other Holy Names Sister who is a member of HNMC’s board of directors, a position she has held for going on seven years now. “I’ve never been a music teacher,” she said, “but I grew up playing music; I played the piano, I played the violin. I was in the Holy Names Academy orchestra. I think that Holy Names Music Center has a forward-moving future. We have a lot of programs in place now, an excellent faculty, and I think the board of directors is really working hard trying to make the music center stable. It has a great future. It’s a unique music center in Spokane, and I don’t think very many people know about it. We’re trying to make it more widely known throughout the city. It’s just a wonderful place. It’s a jewel of the city that isn’t known.
Delaney says that he wants to get the word out that Holy Names Music Center “is Spokane’s community music school. There isn’t another one. As a source of information and wonderful learning, we’re reaching out to everybody.”
(For more information, see the HNMC website, www.hnmc.org.)