In the classroom, the children daily participated in the fine arts, and after some preparation, they came to love the poetry, music, or visual arts planned for the day. In fact, they would often sit quietly in a contemplative pose, gazing at a work of art or listening to a classical piece of music. What did I observe from these classroom activities in the arts? First, beauty revealed itself to the children, who sensed order, harmony, and goodness in what they beheld. Second, each thing of beauty shone forth as its own conspicuous form Third, drawn to the beautiful, the children were overcome by the experience, and during these moments, they were able to put aside their personal concerns. Fourth, the contemplation of beauty gave them deep satisfaction. In a word, the experience lifted them up beyond themselves. They sensed the inherent quality of beauty in nature, which brings with it “a self-evidence that enlightens without mediation” (Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord, I: 37). The experience of artistic beauty uplifted them, and all that is good in life came together for these children.
In addition to classroom subjects, I directed the liturgical music in the parish. My responsibilities of training youth choirs and large groups of children convinced me that if you want adults to sing in church, you have to teach them to sing in school. The choirs consisted of mostly African-American and Hispanic children, who were as solicitous as I about maintaining the highest musical standards. The older children were acutely sensitive about singing in perfect pitch, and without apology, let the younger members know this. Year after year, their hard work won for the school music awards and other accolades. Their repertoire ran the gamut from Gregorian chant to contemporary sacred music. Whether singing in unison or in four parts, they were bearers of the Church’s musical tradition. Happiness for them meant belonging to the parish choir with a mission to excel. We were a family.
Poverty and Children
Today millions of children live in anxiety-ridden households. Many are homeless. How can beauty possibly enter their lives? For them, the argument for beauty is even greater and more urgent. The arts have been known to rescue at-risk children from difficult home environments and circumstances of poverty and abuse. Their dignity is at stake, and the Church’s social teaching extends to education for beauty that permeates their lives. In an age that glorifies ugliness in so many forms, education for beauty is not an option but a necessity. Children should be engaged in the arts as soon as possible because, once they are trapped in addictive behavior, it is difficult to lead them out of the squalor of ugliness promoted by the public as well as those false artists who provoke scandal.
The opportunity to wonder at the marvels of God’s creation belongs to children who have a right to beauty.
School of Beauty in Sao Paolo, Brazil