Into The Spotlight

With its classrooms that have brought students into twenty-first-century learning and athletic teams dominating their competition, CM has another gem up its sleeve: the performing arts. It represents one more avenue for its students to find purpose and success.

A one, a two, a one, two, three, four,” conducts a voice as “The Ronnie” erupts into music. Singing voices overlap in perfect harmony as woodwinds blow across the room. The booms and baps of drums thunder as the audience stomp their feet and clap their hands. It’s Arts Day at CM and the performing arts are on full display. The choir sings the 19th-century invitation hymn “Softly and Tenderly” until donning sunglasses to perform an a cappella rendition of “Life Could Be a Dream.” Band members solo through jazz and soul tunes by Freddie Hubbard and James Brown before switching tracks and playing the score to the spring musical as actors flood the stage. As the crowd of six hundred boys move to the waves of music breaking over them, the performers on stage are cognizant of one thing: what they’re doing must be perfect.

At CM, the arts are an expression of the soul and a fast track to transformation. Student-artists may find themselves on stage as singers, whether in the choir or the Baker Street Boys a capella troupe, as musicians in the middle school or honors bands, or as actors in a fall play or spring musical. Oftentimes, students are involved in multiple performing arts as in the case of Speech & Debate state champion, Chris Boensel ’24 who has been a lead actor in every play throughout his CM career as well as an a capella soloist in the Baker Street Boys. The arts draw students from across disciplines, like baseball slugger Rocky Vankoski ’26, who blew crowds away with his performance as a singing police captain in the spring production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance. Class of 2021 valedictorian Giuseppe Presti once told his Camelot castmates that of all the classes, clubs, and sports he was a part of, theater was his most important community.

“There’s a tremendous sense of belonging that comes from being a part of groups who perform,” says CM music teacher and chorale leader, Dr. Michael Monroe. “There’s something wonderful about watching each other get incrementally better.” Singers have the opportunity to earn honors credit over lunch in Monroe’s historic Donahue Hall music room, the choir headquarters for rehearsals for monthly performances. “Because we meet during the lunch block, we’re able to gather together and share a meal before getting to work,” notes Monroe. “It allows us to get started in a natural state, unifying over food then unifying our voices.”

Unified voices are perhaps the most commonly recognized performance at school, with hymns and harmonies emanating from the choir at each Mass. “Just like how stained glass, high ceilings, and all the beautiful aspects of a cathedral can enhance our sense of being in a sacred space, music can do that as well,” notes Monroe. “Our gym is no cathedral, but the choir singing at Mass really creates a sense of beauty within the space.” Choir students perform hymns and psalms that date back thousands of years; they even revive languages with such songs like “Non Nobis Domine,” sung entirely in Latin. “It does take more work to learn Latin… not just the syllables but the meaning of the words,” says Monroe. “It might seem distant at first, but boys here want to know everything. It’s a great opportunity to have deeper conversations about why we’re singing.”

Choir member Andrew Mak ’23 feels that “it’s magical to look through the lens of Renaissance composers, to try to hear what they heard.” Mak has spent his senior year involved in the arts as the young pirate Frederic in The Pirates of Penzance, a finger-snapping a capella singer in the Baker Street Boys, and, perhaps most notably, the lead soloist of the choir. After training at St. Paul’s Choir School, Mak’s tenor lilt guides audiences through ancient prayers. “As we learn the songs, we perceive the thought and effort that each composer has put into their work,” Mak says, “which inspires our own thought and effort. It’s creatively liberating to explore these songs that have been sung thousands of times over thousands of years and yet make them our own.”

In one day alone, Mak leads a choir through prayer, lets loose with the Baker Street Boys, and leaves the stage only twice in The Pirates of Penzance. “The arts require fine-tuned abilities, physically and mentally,” says CM band director, Clayton DeWalt. “It requires an intense discipline to multi-task, to rehearse and practice, to maintain a consistent performance. It requires perseverance and analysis through mistakes.” The discipline required of students in the arts furnishes them with the experience they will need beyond Baker Street; in Mak’s case that would be cantoring for Masses at Harvard.

Taking a leap from his forte in liturgical singing, Mak speaks of his leading role in The Pirates of Penzance, saying, “acting is a unique opportunity to really think deeply about a character, and how that character would act in each instance.” This exploration of character is precisely the magic of theater for director Dr. Michael Corso. “Most of us only play ourselves in the routine of our lives,” Corso explains. “In theater, you get to try out what it’s like to be an entirely different person. It’s a key to understanding the human condition, to see things through another person’s eyes, to experience a situation or a lifetime through a character.” Dr. Corso considers theater a gift that the cast and crew give in service to an audience. “It’s an opportunity to take people out of the stress of life for a couple of hours,” Corso continues. “We live in a complicated world and people have all kinds of personal issues going on. For two hours, people come to watch a performance, and, if we do it right, they forget about everything they brought into the theater. They’re in Camelot, they’re in New York, or on a pirate ship. They’re wherever the story brings them.” Student-artists are pushed to experience life beyond themselves. “Theater is a microcosm of life itself,” continues Corso. “Life is a drama, a comedy, and a tragedy at times. Watching live performers act out stories we deeply understand and relate to… there’s a lot of connection to the human experience.” Actors must think how a character moves differently at another age, speaks differently from another culture, or thinks differently from another point of view. It is with this unique perspective into other lives that theater produces men of character. “With theater,” notes Corso, “the audience and the story are in the same physical and temporal space.” Without the ability to reshoot and edit, a live performance depends completely on the rehearsal of the cast, crew, and band… and their good fortune. “You can be rehearsed to perfection, but when the time comes to be on stage, you never know what’s going to happen,” says Dr. Monroe, who works closely with Dr. Corso on musical theater productions. “A musician can miss a cue, an actor can forget a line, a prop can be misplaced on stage. And suddenly, you have to react in the moment. And although things are not going exactly as you planned, those are the moments you feel most alive as a performer.” The potential for failure in a performance shows that the arts require tremendous bravery. To perform in front of hundreds of peers and strangers is no easy task, but one student-artists pursue with valor. Students interested in the theater program are not confined to acting, with crew opportunities involving painting and moving sets, designing lights, or operating a soundboard, with their talents showcased in three nights of one show each semester. Musical theater expands on the experience with the addition of song, rhythm, and melody. Music, whether played with lyrics or instruments alone, tells stories of its own, according to senior star drummer Kai Kitchens ’23. “When I play drums, I communicate what I feel in the moment. Musicians use storytelling tools like playing loud or soft, fast or slow. You can express love through music, show passion… it’s a universal language.” Kitchens even compared songwriting to literature, saying, “setting up the groove is like setting up the characters. There’s a rising action, climax, and falling action. You don’t go to the chorus too quickly the same way you don’t rush to the action in a novel.” With a passion like his refined at CM, it’s no wonder Kitchens, who is on a full scholarship, is headed to Berklee College of Music.

Band director Clayton DeWalt reflects that what made him fall in love with music was the drive to be better. “At the first band rehearsal, students often don’t even know what to do; they’ve never been in an ensemble,” says DeWalt. “After a few performances, they start taking ownership of their parts and are proud of it. They’ll look at each other and say, ‘this is working, we’re sounding good now.’ It’s incredibly rewarding and exciting.” In addition to his honors class, DeWalt leads the middle school band. “It’s wonderful to get students playing in a band when they’re younger. As they get older, they’ll be playing at a higher level and with more familiarity, and they’ll make for strong leaders to the students that follow them.” The CM bands play in fall, spring, and Christmas concerts, where rising stars like Mason Mastrodicasa ’28 thumbs a groovy bassline as Joaquin Padilla ’28 taps at a keyboard like a bonafide jazz musician. Aided by DeWalt on keyboard, drums, or trombone, the middle school band reminds audiences that hobbies and talents started at home make for stellar performances when practiced in class. “There’s a desire to work together and do something excellent as a group,” says DeWalt. “Boys here want to win, and a ‘winning’ performance is one that connects with people.”

In a place where sports and academics are often seen as the headliners, the performing arts are grabbing their fair share of the limelight. The determined maintenance required of the arts not only refines a boy’s skills but empowers him to push himself to new limits and unveil his potential. Through each note sung, instrument played, and line delivered, boys at CM discover strength, courage, and an unwavering commitment to their craft, growing incrementally into more empathetic, confident, and well-rounded individuals, ready to take on the world and audiences of another kind beyond the stage.

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Catholic Memorial, the Christian Brothers School of Boston, prepares boys for college, manhood and a world full of unknown challenges, ambiguity and complex problems and the importance of relationships.