Helping Catholic schools make some beautiful music

McVinney Auditorium donates ukuleles to benefit local Catholic School music programs

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PROVIDENCE —The soft strum of ukulele strings echoed in the hallways of Sacred Heart School in East Providence. As excited as they were unsure, students opened boxes, then held their new instruments in their hands — the possibilities and the sounds were sweet.
Thanks to a generous donation of 100 ukuleles by McVinney Auditorium, an agency of the Diocese of Providence, students from local Catholic schools will now have the opportunity to play a beloved, and easy to learn, string instrument.
It was a full-circle moment for Director of McVinney Auditorium Aaron Mack who helped it all come together for these children.
“When I was in school, music was my everything. I was in every music class available, every chorus and band, all hours of the day. And while I’m not exactly a professional musician today, music education has carried benefits into all other parts of my life. Collaboration, listening skills, openness to emotional experience, and comfort in front of an audience, there’s a whole list of amazing developmental benefits that cannot be substituted by anything else other than learning to play music.”
Mack explained that the ukulele idea took shape when was researching a grant from the Gretsch Foundation, a charitable giving organization tied to the instrument manufacturer. He then reached out to each Catholic school principal in the diocese to ask what musical instruments might be needed for their programs. Sacred Heart School and St. Pius V in Providence said that their students would greatly benefit from a donation of ukuleles. Twenty ukuleles were also donated to the auditorium’s namesake school, Bishop McVinney School in South Providence. The ukuleles were purchased from Rick’s Musical Instruments in Cumberland, which graciously gave them to McVinney Auditorium at a greatly discounted rate.
Ella Faria, a fifth grader from Sacred Heart School, gently moved her fingers over each string, revealing a fun, light sound. Her smile was beaming.
“It’s really cool,” she said. “I feel like I’m in Hawaii or maybe a country singer. I’m really excited to learn how to play it.”
Philip Desrosiers, who has directed Catholic elementary, middle school and high school bands for more than 30 years, leads the music program at Sacred Heart. He shared with Rhode Island Catholic that this donation will serve the students well.
“It is so hands on,” he said. “We have been playing the recorder and when I told them we were going to switch to ukulele they said, ‘Thank God.’ Because they play it from second through eighth grade. It’s a nice change and now they get the chance to learn a string instrument. This is going to be nice and handy for them and teach them how to read music and learn how to play melody and chords. We could never have afforded this. This is just wonderful. I can tell they are excited.”
Sister Josemaria Pence, O.P., principal at St. Pius V School, said that she had prayed specifically that the students would someday have an opportunity to learn the ukulele. And her prayers truly answered.
There was excitement in Maddie O’Brien’s music class at St. Pius as her students pulled their new ukuleles out of each box. The teacher expressed her sincere gratitude to Mack and the diocese for this wonderful opportunity for her students.
“Music is such an important part of the curriculum for students. They will be so excited to be able to particulate in instrumental ensemble. We are so grateful for this thoughtful gift and we will make sure to put them to good use.”
Due in large part to most performance venues closing during the COVID pandemic, whereas McVinney remained committed to staying safely open, the auditorium was suddenly inundated with new rental clients.
“In 2020-21, we became a booming business, allowing us to operate without subsidy and generate a profit. Last year I had asked the McVinney board to allow me to spend a portion of this on a music program for the diocesan schools, music education being a passion project of mine.”
Unfortunately, as the next COVID wave hit, this music program got continually delayed, but Mack still had the budget and remained committed to doing something to support arts education in the Diocese of Providence — sooner, rather than later.
“When I was in elementary school my first instrument was a trumpet, and this made me think of my first one, that mix of excitement and confusion, ‘I’m so excited to have this but I have no idea how to use it!’ Everyone was opening boxes, strumming out of tune ukes, smiling and playing. It was just plain fun to be there, listening and watching.”
To learn more about all that McVinney Auditorium has to offer, visit mcvinneyauditorium.org.

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