By Michael Gresham
The Texas Catholic
The deafening, but joy-filled rhythmic chant of “Yes, Lord! Yes, Lord!” echoed through the sanctuary of St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church as Notre Dame School of Dallas students sang and danced to praise-and-worship music Feb. 13.
It’s a scene repeated most Mondays thanks to the efforts of the Miracle Melodies, a group of students from Cistercian Preparatory School who came together to use their musical talents as a ministry to help others.
“We are very blessed to have them,” said Carmen Fernandez, principal of Notre Dame School, a Catholic school for students with development disabilities. “The students just light up when they are here.”
The Miracle Melodies — Cistercian seniors Carter Soderberg, William Greene, John Paul Hays and Kai Jameson — initially came together out of a shared love for music and service. The idea originated with Greene, who is the group’s pianist.
“I teach piano, and one of the students I have has a brother who is on the spectrum. I noticed that when I played music, he would respond so well to it,” Greene said. “I realized that music really is the universal language. I really wanted to share my love of music with everyone else — and that’s kind of how all this got started.”
Greene approached Soderberg with his idea.
“He pitched the idea to me, and we then talked to Mr. [Peter] Saliga, our history teacher at Cistercian whose son James is a student at Notre Dame School,” Soderberg explained.
The students visited Saliga’s home, performing for his son to see how he would respond to the music.
“He responded incredibly well,” said Soderberg, who serves as the main vocalist. “He was dancing to the songs. He was doing the hand motions to the songs. He was very excited to be singing.
“We realized that we could transfer this to a praise-and-worship type of performance on a grander scale,” he added. “And that’s when we started Miracle Melodies.”
Greene provided the name, drawing inspiration from the reactions of the students.
“From what we saw, I firmly believe that in every song, there is a miracle,” he said. “Getting all these kids who are generally so quiet and reserved to sing and be so excited about it, I’d really call that a miracle.”
The Cistercian students approached Fernandez with their idea this past summer, setting the stage for the Monday morning performances.
“They gave me a plan, I looked at the schedule, and we set it up,” Fernandez said. “They have been here every Monday — whether it is their day off or not. It’s just been wonderful for not only our students, but also for our teachers.”
More than just music
Fernandez, who has been at Notre Dame School for 34 years and has served as principal for the past two, said the performances are about more than just music.
“It’s not just music, praise and prayer — which is so important — but it is also social skills,” she said. “They have built self-esteem. The students are now standing up in the front and singing with this group. It is meaningful in so many ways besides just music.”
Seeing that transformation among the students is what Soderberg said makes it all worthwhile even if it does mean he and his peers miss out on the time-honored tradition of late-start Mondays for Cistercian seniors.
“It is really the best way to start a Monday,” he said. “We get the benefit and the amazing sensation of going into our classes knowing that we just helped someone else and that we just brightened someone’s day.”
Jameson agreed, adding that he believes he and his fellow Miracle Melodies members get as much, if not more, out of the performances than those students for whom they performed.
“I might hear this song, ‘Yes, Lord,’ made up of four fairly simple chords that I may not listen to on my own, but you bring it here and it transforms into something that is a life-changing, crazy, amazing thing,” said Jameson, who along with Hays plays guitar for the group. “That view of the world going into every single week is simply amazing.”
“Most of these kids don’t have very many opportunities to express themselves, whether it be artistically or personally. With this, every Monday morning, the music gives them an opportunity to do so,” Hays added. “When you look into the crowd while playing, you see the joy on their faces — that just sets the whole week off on the right tone. It’s just a great thing to keep in your heart and think back to.”
The efforts of the Miracle Melodies are not lost on Saliga, whose son helped provide inspiration for the weekly performances.
“To see the joy on James’ face and those of his classmates, it really makes an impact on me,” Saliga said. “In our society today, which is so hungry for meaning, to see this happen weekly is just inspirational.”