Brayden Hayes started on the violin and since added the saxophone and now piano to his repertoire. The sixth-grader said he wants to get his hands on as many instruments as he can because playing music makes him happy.
On a recent spring afternoon, Brayden met with Sister Brenda Fritz for a piano lesson at Presentation Arts Center. The two practiced the song “Lean On Me,” a request from Brayden’s mom, as well as exercises from his workbook.
Brayden learned about music lessons offered at the arts center from a flyer his band teacher at Ritenour Middle School handed out. He’s been a student of Sister Brenda’s for the past five months.
Brayden excitedly texted his mom from school to ask if he could sign up for lessons. “I just want to be able to learn everything” about music, he said.
Asked if he wants to play with a band someday, Brayden added: “one hundred percent.”
The parish transformed the former convent building at Our Lady of the Presentation Parish in Overland in 2016 into the Presentation Arts Center. The community outreach ministry is sponsored by the parish with a mission to make the arts accessible and affordable to everyone.
The arts center has three primary components: music education, which includes private piano and guitar lessons; a visual arts program, which includes classes in acrylic painting, watercolor, mixed media, sculpture and crafts; and a weekly quilting group.
Sister Brenda, a Daughter of Charity and director of music ministry at Our Lady of the Presentation Parish, piloted a piano lesson program in the summer of 2016. “In the first 24 hours, we had 25 calls,” she said. “It was clear there was a lot of interest and a need out there for kids.”
The center’s purpose is to make a connection with children and adults who might not otherwise have an opportunity to access the arts. Music lessons are free, and instruments are loaned to anyone who needs one. Scholarships also are available to help with the cost of instructional materials.
The ministry is a way to evangelize to a wider community, said Sister Brenda, an accomplished pianist, who received her training at DePaul University in Chicago.
“It is happening right here in this old convent,” she said. “We are evangelizing by doing.” In some cases, that has led to a desire to learn more about the Catholic faith; several years ago, for example, a former student who took music lessons entered the Church at the Easter Vigil.
Sister Brenda and two other teachers — Gabrielle Hoang, an undergrad student at Saint Louis University, and Becky Canino, a graduate student at Fontbonne University — offer piano lessons to 18 students, with a few more on a waiting list. Donald Wright volunteers his time teaching guitar lessons — electric, classical and bass — three days a week to 15 students. Wright, who entered the Church in 2016 and is involved in music ministry at Our Lady of the Presentation Parish, said it’s his way of giving back to others.
The presence of God is evident when he sees the joy in his students as they’re learning, Wright said. “It’s great when you see a kid pick up an instrument and see the look on their face,” he said.
Visual arts and quilting
Three volunteer artists teach acrylic painting, watercolor, mixed media, sculpture and craft classes and paint nights for adults. A children’s art camp was held during spring break, with plans to offer more camps for children in the summer.
Jane Luft, who coordinates visual arts classes, said the adult painting classes are “such a good time, because it’s relaxed, and we can spend four hours, compared to one of those ‘paint and sip’ places, and help people as they need it,” she said.
A member of Our Lady of the Presentation Parish, Luft has had an interest in the arts since she was a child. When the arts center first opened in 2016, Luft recalled a woman in her 70s who saw an advertisement for classes and wanted to try her hand at drawing for the first time.
Soon enough, the woman began to look forward to getting up every morning to work on her sketches. “She had this new passion she didn’t realize she had,” Luft said.
A group of a dozen women meets weekly at the arts center for quilting. “If it involves a needle and a thread and fabric, it comes under quilting,” quipped Vickie Unger, who coordinates the quilting program.
Quilt sales and raffles have raised several thousand dollars over the years. A good part of the proceeds goes to charitable works, including Our Lady’s Inn, relief efforts in Ukraine and individuals in the community who have needed help with medical bills or with gifts during the holidays. Some funding also goes back into the arts center.
Unger recalls memories of sitting at her grandmother’s feet as she quilted at home. Her mother also taught her how to sew, although Unger added that it took her 35 years to finally complete her first quilt as an adult. Quilting became more of a regular hobby for her once she retired.
The quilting program also serves as a resource for those who prefer to quilt at home or need help getting started or finishing a project. “We have others in the nursing home we keep in contact with even if they’re not involved anymore,” Unger said.
“There’s something therapeutic working with your hands,” she said. “It’s soothing. And each quilt comes with its own story.”
>> Presentation Arts Center
Presentation Arts Center is in need of donations for the purchase of art supplies and materials for music lessons. Other donation ideas include Amazon gift cards for art supplies and music books or gift cards to Midwest Sheet Music.
Additional quilters are welcome, and volunteers are sought to teach strings, brass, woodwinds, percussion, dance, theater, painting and other visual arts. (Archdiocesan child safety training will be required for volunteers.)
To learn more about the arts center, including classes and ways to support, see https://stlreview.com/3y7MwtO or contact Sister Brenda Fritz at (314) 731-6522.
Presentation Arts Center is on Facebook @PAColp8832 and Instagram @pac_arts_center.