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“The Way” sets St. Augustine’s writings to exquisite music

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What started as an accidental foray into musical composition turned into a labor of love.

He had never written a song in his life, but 26 years ago Tony MacPherson, then a professor at Villanova College in Australia, suddenly found himself composing an album. One day, while mowing his lawn, a gentle melody came to him and brought with it a sense of peace. The tune stuck with him as he went about his days teaching math and chemistry, all the while mixing with the Augustinian priests who are ever present on Villanova’s campus.

Perhaps it was MacPherson’s Catholic upbringing, or maybe the Augustinians rubbed off on him, because one day, upon hearing the words of St. Augustine — “I have learned to love you late, O Lord, your beauty ancient yet so new. Our hearts are restless, O Lord, until they rest in you …” — he realized that they precisely matched the melody that had been in his mind for weeks.

He explained to Catholic Leader, “St. Augustine’s story caught me completely by accident,” he said. “I was hearing about it at school and, obviously, listening and being aware, but the real reason it caught me so much is due to (what happened that day mowing the lawn and afterwards).”

And so it was that a man who didn’t play any instruments and had never written a song in his life penned “The Way” in just five minutes. He did not stop there, however, and “The Way” became the title track of an album about Augustine, drawn on his Confessions. The album, was more than 2 decades in the making, and during that time MacPherson meticulously sifted through the writings of St. Augustine for inspiration and to ensure accuracy of the work.

The music was arranged by one of MacPherson’s students, a talented musician named Simon Hyland. Hyland performed all the music on the recordings, which were finally completed and released in 2016. Now, for Villanova’s 70th Anniversary, Hyland will return to the school to perform the entire album on June 1 and 2.

Tony does not doubt that was he was led to write this album, “I’m the accidental composer, and I just hold the pen,” he said. “This whole project is inspired by God. There is no doubt. I could not do this alone …” He said he is thrilled to be a part of the Villanova’s celebration, a place he calls “an oasis of love and learning.”

“But I was to soon discover why the school ran so well and why it was so happy …. it was due to a philosophy, that was so rich, that underpinned it … and based upon the principles of the great St Augustine himself. The story itself is every man’s story. He was restless as a teenager, he was engaged in search for meaning, which is the quest of humankind. It’s his liberation that really matters. So Augustine himself is not the main event here – this story is truly the pathway to truth and God. It’s about God’s revelation to us.”

Tony describes the goal of the album as to accurately portray the man Augustine was. “I want people to see that he was just a normal man asking questions, struggling with his lot in life, searching for truth,” he said. “What Augustine has done for the world is to articulate the Gospel and, in fact, many parts of the Bible, and translated it into practical terms, and so he has produced great educational psychology which works today. So 1600 years after the event, Augustine’s work is as fresh today as it was when it was first penned. It’s still relevant – always will be.”

Augustine: The Way – Songs of Love, Loss and Liberation will be performed in concert at Hanrahan Theatre, Villanova College, Coorparoo, Australia, at 7 p.m. on Friday, June 1, and Saturday, June 2. Tickets are $25 and can be booked at theway.trueau.com.

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