Lessons in Life and Music

Sister Dolores Super became my organ teacher in January 2020, and my life was forever changed.

I moved to Minnesota in fall 2019 to study at Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary in Collegeville, Minn. I arrived with a degree in organ performance but wanted to continue studying organ, and I needed someone who would challenge me. Fortunately, S. Dolores agreed.

People often say, “Be careful what you wish for.” This was definitely true with S. Dolores. She challenged me in ways I could not have imagined, mentoring me to advance three or four levels.

For my first lesson, I played just one solitary note—a G in Johann Sebastian Bach’s Fugue in G Minor. She immediately interrupted and said, “OK. I’m going to stop you right there. You need to play that note with more authority. You need to get our attention and make us want to listen to you.” At that moment, I knew I had the perfect teacher and that our paths had crossed at exactly the right time. S. Dolores was almost 90 years old, and she had stopped teaching years earlier but still had so much to give. My hope was to soak up everything I could.

At the second lesson, I made sure to play the first note with authority. To my dismay, she stopped me after the second note claiming she had not heard four 16th notes in the quarter note I played. She said, “The whole piece hinges on the first notes.”

Much of what I learn in lessons with S. Dolores, I apply to life. Playing or living with more authority is only one of them. She stressed that every note matters. How true this is in life where every person and all of creation matter!

Learning notes and rhythms may seem the final step for some, but not for S. Dolores. For music to “happen,” they are only the first step. Music has to move, to go somewhere. It may tell a story or paint a picture. S. Dolores would say, “It is not just note, note, note.” My hunch is that if I do not play musically, S. Dolores will haunt me.

Breathing is key to good organ playing. S. Dolores describes accompanying the Liturgy of the Hours as providing a “soft pillow” as the foundation. Together, the organ and singers breathe and praise God as one voice. This way of playing elevates and enhances sung liturgical prayer. I am forever grateful for the music and life lessons I learned from S. Dolores. Often, at the end of a lesson, I would comment that she wore me out. She would reply, “You should be worn out. That’s how you know it’s a good lesson.”

Our lessons not only wore me out—they changed my life. My strong desire to continue taking lessons led me to stay at Saint Benedict’s Monastery for one-and-a-half years during the COVID-19 pandemic. I fell in love with the sisters and their way of life and transferred my promise of stability, becoming an official member of the community on December 8, 2023.

My life has been forever changed. And to think, it all started with one little note that needed to be played with more authority.

Catherine Duenne, OSB

This article was featured on page 18 in the spring 2024 issue of Benedictine Sisters and Friends.

Photo: Sisters Catherine Duenne (left) and Dolores Super.