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May 10, 2018, Adrian, Michigan – Sunday afternoons and classical concerts seem to go together so well – and thanks to Sister Magdalena Ezoe, OP, the Sisters at the Adrian Dominican Motherhouse enjoy this beautiful and uplifting combination once every month.
Since 2011, Sister Magdalena has offered a concert in St. Catherine Chapel at 1:30 p.m. on the first Sunday of the month – with the exception of April 2018, when she “let Easter and April Fool’s Day take precedence” and rescheduled her concert for Sunday, April 8.
The idea for the First Sunday concert series grew out of Sister Magdalena’s more than 30 years as Professor of Music at Siena Heights University in Adrian. “At Siena I offered the First Sunday series from 1985 to 1995,” she recalled. Her concerts involved samples of classical works, which she used to teach a lesson about music. “One student asked why I never played the entire piece,” she recalled. “He inspired me to do a complete concert.”
She began the monthly program at the Motherhouse with a series called “Do you Hear What I Hear,” offered from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. on Fridays. “I started teaching the Sisters on campus,” she said. “Music is a structure,” which tells the musician the tempo, how loudly or softly to play, as well as the notes to be played, Sister Magdalena explained. In that series, she taught musical concepts such as two-part music, in which one theme, A, is contrasted with another theme, B. “When A is repeated, you call it three-part form,” she explained. “Very satisfying because when A is repeated, people recognize that they have heard it before.”
Sister Magdalena hopes her current concert series will help the Sisters to appreciate and enjoy classical music. “American culture doesn’t know classical music,” she said. People need to hear a particular musical piece often before they can even judge whether they like it, she explained. “You can’t tell until you’ve heard it several times. The reason people like Beethoven’s work is that people hear it so often.”
Her concert ministry involves more than showing up at the chapel at 1:30 p.m. on the first Sundays of the month. Sister Magdalena selects the music and theme for each concert and devotes hours to practicing for it.
Sister Magdalena grew up in her native Japan during World War II, enduring the bombs and other hardships of life during war. As a child, she was surrounded by music in a musical family; one uncle ran a music conservatory, and Sister Magdalena herself was a pianist for the Yoyogi American School in Japan.
Sister Magdalena also inherited from her family a love for travel. Her grandfather, Ezoe Renzo, used his English skills in 1876 to serve as the interpreter for a Japanese porcelain company taking part in the Philadelphia Expo. He returned to the United States to study commerce in New York, and in 1908 sent his son, Sister Magdalena’s father, to a military school in Manlius, New York, near Syracuse.
Sister Magdalena in turn traveled to Miami, Florida, at the age of 20, to study at Barry College, now University, sponsored by the Adrian Dominican Sisters. “A year later, I took the next step in my adventure and entered the Adrian Dominican Congregation,” she said.
As an Adrian Dominican Sister, she taught music for 11 years at Dominican High School in Detroit and for a short time at St. Dominic College in St. Charles, Illinois. Her next stop was Siena Heights, where she taught for 37 years.
Through the years, Sister Magdalena has also composed Mass parts, responsorial psalms, and hymns, as well as chamber music and music for the organ and the piano.
Sister Magdalena’s talents as a musician and a composer have not gone unnoticed. In 2012, the Dominican Institute for the Arts bestowed on her the Fra Angelico Award for her gifts as a musician and composer. The highest honor that the DIA can bestow on a member, the award is named for the great Dominican artist.
Sister Magdalena’s hope for her current ministry is that the Sisters will continue to enjoy and appreciate the music that she offers them on the First Sundays of each month.