Saint Pius X Academy turns 60: In this 154-year-old heritage marvel, the halls are alive with the sound of music

Marco Carvalho

The Saint Pius X Music Academy, one of Macau’s most important music tuition centres, will celebrate its diamond jubilee on October 8th. The Catholic Diocese of Macau will kick off, on that very same day, a year-long programme of commemorative events that includes a series of lectures and several recitals. Next Saturday, Bishop Stephen Lee will unveil the busts of Pope Pius X and father Áureo Castro in the academy’s new premises, located at Rua da Praia do Bom Parto.

The ceremony will formally mark the beginning of a new era for the renowned music academy, one year after the Catholic-inspired learning centre moved lock, stock and barrel to the building that housed, over several decades, the primary section of the Matteo Ricci College.

Built in 1868 and declared a “building of architectural interest”, the property underwent an extensive, three-year renovation. The rehabilitation process was inexorably affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, but the refurbishment breathed a new life into the heritage building, restoring the structure to its former glory. The revamped space offers the Saint Pius X Music Academy a new lease of life, six decades after the institution was founded by Áureo Castro, a fervent priest and talented musician and composer: “I am very pleased with the final outcome. I am well aware of how the venue looked like before the renovation works were carried out and the difference is quite outstanding. But the whole process wasn’t exactly easy. We faced a lot of difficulties and we encountered a lot of problems. But the final outcome is remarkable, it is very pleasing,” Basilla Sam, director of the Saint Pius X Academy told O Clarim.

One of the biggest challenges, Mrs. Sam claims, was the obligation to maintain the building’s architectural characteristics and, at the same time, ensure that the functionality of the space as well as its suitability as a music tuition centre were not jeopardized. Elements such as the original doors and windows of the building, as well as the structural integrity of the property, had to be preserved. The architects and civil engineers that supervised the renovation project were asked to devise original solutions to ensure that learning would take place under optimal conditions. Aspects such as sound insulation and the soundproofing of the different premises were a major concern, but the renewed facilities now offer a learning environment that balances modernity and historical grandeur, while offering the students much better conditions than those they enjoyed until last year.

“Whenever we welcome new students and we organize the introduction session for new parents, the feeling we get is that they are very happy with the learning environment that we provide,” Mrs Sam emphasizes.

“I think that a pleasant and nice learning environment is very important for anyone who wants to learn music, because it helps to build and develop a sense of belonging. In this type of environment, I believe that the students will feel compelled to be better students,” the director of the Saint Pius X Music Academy adds.

The move to the new premises, not far from the government headquarters, brought the academy more tangible gains. The number of classrooms and teaching facilities that the Catholic tuition centre offers its students has vastly increased, allowing the institution to consider the development of new courses and a greater degree of involvement with the local community: “Compared to the old school, we have more classrooms, we have more space and that means we also have more possibilities to offer new courses in the future. Until we moved here, we only had 10 classrooms. Now we have 15, we have two multi-purpose rooms, we have two rooms for recitals. That means we now have space to organize more recitals and more activities and that we can vary our offer and create different courses for our students,” Mrs Sam claims.

The Saint Pius X Music Academy received a donation of three electric organs and a pipe organ similar to the one that can be found in Saint Dominic’s church. One of the institution’s current priorities is, actually, to foster a thriving community of organists and other musicians, so that they can serve in the local parishes.

But there’s more to the new premises than meets the eye. The academy currently teaches around two hundred students, but Mrs. Sam expects the numbers not only to increase, but also to diversify the student’s recruitment.

“We have hired new staff. We currently have a total of 22 teachers. Compared to what was the norm in the past, it is a significant increase. We used to have 10 to 12 teachers, but over the last two years, many new teachers joined our team. The same thing happened with the students. In the past, we used to have around 150 students but, this year alone, over two hundred students enrolled at the academy and the facilities are only being partially used,” the director of the Saint Pius X Academy told O Clarim.

“I believe the number of students will increase if we are able to successfully conceive a program directed at adults that might allow us to also use our facilities in the morning. We hope to attract a larger number of students, but it will also depend on the availability of teachers. We need to understand if they have time to teach in the morning. Be that as it may, it is not easy to equate the exact number of students that the school can accommodate. This program directed at adults – the senior program, as I call it – is still in the planning stage,” concludes Mrs Sam.