In her role as Principal of Holy Cross School in South Bend, Annie Borjas is presented many ideas for student activities, and she doesn’t always say yes. But when musical artist Amanda Vernon approached Borjas about recording songs for the Hallow app with Holy Cross students, Borjas knew it was a special opportunity.
“Having never been part of a recording session, I had no idea what I was actually saying ‘yes’ to, but the entire endeavor felt Spirit-led and very much like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our school community,” Borjas told Today’s Catholic.
When Vernon asked, Borjas had already been familiar with both the Hallow app (a Catholic app for prayer and spiritual reading and meditation) and the artist herself. Vernon is a Catholic author and musician with eight albums as well as decades of performance and recording experience. On her website, Vernon describes her musical style as “soulful pop with gospel and jazz roots.” Borjas said many of the faculty and staff had read and enjoyed Vernon’s book, “When God Wrecks Your Romance: Orthodox Faith, Unorthodox Story.” The students, Borjas said, had also been familiar with some of Vernon’s albums, which she said the school’s gym teacher plays occasionally during open gym time. Some of the students even sang with Vernon years ago, when Vernon came to visit and perform at the school.
Julie VanMeter, music teacher at Holy Cross School, remembered Vernon’s previous performances at the school. “When she heard us sing along with her, she was very impressed with the students’ singing and told us she’d come back and sing with us,” VanMeter said. “And she did!”
Father Jim Fenstermaker, Pastor at Holy Cross Parish, also remembered Vernon. “Our students, in particular, have responded so well to her prayer and praise missions in which she has invited the students to enter into her music with body, mind, and spirit,” Father Fenstermaker said.
After Borjas’ initial yes, Borjas, Vernon, and Father Fenstermaker had meetings to figure out logistics. They decided to have students practice songs in class during most of the fall semester for a recording date in early December. Then, students would also perform those songs in a live concert for school and parish families in Holy Cross School’s annual Christmas concert. This meant coordination with VanMeter to help prepare the PreK-8 students for recording day.
VanMeter said she used her time in music class to practice with the students, which involved teaching them their parts for the choruses they would be singing. Fortunately, VanMeter said, most of the songs chosen for the recording were songs with which the students were already familiar.
“Sharing a performer’s songwriting and recording process was a very new experience for my students, and it was fascinating to see the performance come together,” VanMeter said.
Vernon met with the students only once before recording day. “She explained to the students what they should expect during a recording session, the fact that we might have to record a song or parts of a song over and over until it sounded just right, and the fact that she was excited to work with them,” Borjas remembered.
Of course, there were still things to iron out on the day of the recording. “This came with many challenges, including not being able to hear the background music, the acoustics of the church, and the fact that the rain outside led to squeaky feet in the church,” VanMeter said.
Borjas also remembered that the hourlong practice session included lots of waiting and do-overs. “It was more work than most students and teachers were expecting, helping us realize how complicated recording music truly is,” Borjas said.
“Amanda handled it beautifully – she is amazing with kids and had so much patience,” Borjas added.
At the concert later that month (held at St. Pius X Catholic Church in Granger to accommodate larger crowds), Vernon announced the launch of one of the live songs on the Hallow app – the hymn “Sing of Mary,” credited to “Amanda Vernon and Holy Cross School.” VanMeter was very pleased with the results, calling it “amazing” and “fantastic.”
“It was exciting to see our school name on an international prayer app,” Borjas said, “and we pray that this experience brings others closer to Christ.”
Father Fenstermaker had similar hopes for the recording experience. “My hope is that the students truly internalized the hymns they sang with Amanda and that this experience will be a leaven in their continuing growth as young Christians in our school.”
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