features

Michelle Sacco ‘21: Journey of an Organ Scholar

Kelly Gallagher ’22

Editor-in-Chief

If you were lucky enough to pass St. Joseph’s Chapel on Sunday, February 28, at 3 p.m., you must have experienced a thrill at the powerful notes of the organ soaring across the courtyard as Michelle Sacco ‘21 performed her Senior Recital. The recital featured compositions by Buxtehude, Bach, Gigout, and Mozart and was presented as part of the Chapel Artists Series at the College of the Holy Cross. Michelle, a Music and Catholic Studies double major from Cypress, Texas, began preparing for her recital at the beginning of Summer 2020, demonstrating the dedication characteristic of her role as an Organ Scholar.

Michelle’s first musical instrument was the piano, her interest having been piqued because her older brother and sister took lessons. Throughout middle school, she studied piano on and off, in addition to participating in her parish choir. Michelle credits her music minister, Ms. Bridget Wenk, with encouraging her to try her hand at the organ. As Michelle recalled in an email interview with The Spire, “I ended up falling in love with the music and the instrument with all of the challenges it presented, and knew that it was what I wanted to pursue in college.” She devoted herself to the instrument throughout high school, studying rigorously in various programs. While attending the High School Organ Academy at Oberlin College the summer before her senior year, Michelle learned there was an opening for the Organ Scholarship at Holy Cross, which she was later invited to audition for. 

Photo courtesy of Michelle Sacco ’21; graphic design by Hui Li ’21

As Organ Scholar, Michelle has enjoyed the collaborative nature of the program. Michelle and her fellow Organ Scholar, Matt Luca ‘22, work with Dr. Ezequiel Menendez, Visiting Lecturer in Organ, who helps them find performance opportunities in order to further hone their skills. For example, the pair participated in the 2019 Bach-a-thon, held at Trinity Lutheran Church in Worcester. Michelle has also been able to work with visiting artists, assisting them with their concerts and taking organ lessons from them. Michelle greatly values such experiences, reflecting that “By working with others, I’ve been able to learn a lot from the challenges each might present, but especially the importance of patience, being a team player, and being prepared.”

Michelle has been able to use her performing skills to enrich her friendships, and vice versa. Before the pandemic, her friends have sung as soloists while Michelle played the prelude at Mass. At Michelle’s senior recital, her friend Liz Mazzocco ‘21 performed on the violin while Michelle accompanied on the organ. Michelle’s performances have also been a source of connection and contribution to the community, which was perhaps clearest when she and Matt Luca lent their talents to a February 2020 concert in memory of Grace Rett, Class of 2022.

The ability to participate in performances has been a key component of Michelle’s education. Michelle shared that “Even just occasionally participating in performances goes a long way, I think, because you become more familiar with performing in front of others, and practicing well to get your music concert ready.” However, the performance experience can also be a source of frustration. “Musicians can spend months learning and perfecting a piece of music while practicing multiple hours a day, but when it’s finally ready for, say, to play at Mass as a prelude, it only lasts maybe 5-10 minutes. Or if you play it for postlude after Mass, the entire church is empty before you’ve finished the piece.” 

Ultimately, Michelle loves being able to provide congregants with the opportunity to prepare for Mass. In addition, she loves the music for itself, regardless of the context in which she plays it. One of her favorite events to participate in is the Annual Festival of Lessons and Carols: “I really love Christmas in general, so you don’t have to ask me twice to play Christmas music in the Chapel with the College Choir and hundreds of people in the Chapel (pre-COVID times)!”

Michelle plans to pursue a master’s degree with a focus in Sacred Music. She finished her graduate school auditions at the end of February, and is eagerly awaiting her results. A video of her livestreamed recital is available on the Holy Cross Music Department’s Youtube page. 

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