By Janee Law
Matthew Luca was overwhelmed with joy last Thursday.
After years of playing the organ, honing his skills, the St. Anthony’s high schooler learned he was named College of The Holy Cross’ Organ Scholar of the Class of 2022, an honor that comes with a full scholarship.
“I was really happy that I was granted this opportunity, especially since it wasn’t supposed to go to me,” Luca, 17, of Port Jefferson, said. “The scholarship is offered every other year, but the professor liked me that much that he petitioned to move it up a year.”
The honor, typically offered to one student every other year, was bestowed to Luca by Professor James David Christie, who heard Luca’s performance on the organ, petitioned the college to make an exception and offered it a year ahead of schedule.
Christie, who has been part of the college for nearly 40 years, called Luca “extremely musical” and “very solid” technically when it comes to the organ.
He continued, “He responds well to teaching, and to making changes. For me, that’s very important, to be able to show a student something that they can then change immediately.
“Not all people have it, but he has that gift.”
Luca, a senior at St. Anthony’s in South Huntington, said it meant a lot to him that “not only would I be committing to a school, but a school be committing to me.
Christie “moving that scholarship up for me really meant a lot to me,” Luca added.
Christie met Luca in May, after Luca went to the Worcester, Massachusetts-based college to get a tour of the school and see the Holy Cross organ. It was then Christie decided to offer him a lesson.
“He’s also very devoted to the Catholic Church and that was immediately apparent when I met him and his father,” Christie said. “They felt strongly about him going to a catholic school so he was sort of a shoo-in in that respect because I like to have young Catholics that we can mold in a tradition of good quality church music and give them great experience.”
Before he became dedicated to the organ, Luca previously played piano, which he took up in preschool.
“It’s completely different from the piano,” he said. “The whole style of the instruments’ are complete 180s from each other.”
Luca began playing the organ three-and-a-half years ago after he heard an organist play at St. Patrick’s Church in Huntington.
“It was Easter…and they were building this brand new organ that they had this great organist, who really took my breath away,” Luca said, adding that his mother, Wendy, noticed his fascination with the instrument and suggested he start playing. “I gave it a shot and here we are now.”
Luca said he enjoys the challenge the organ presents.
“It’s entertaining for me,” he said, “and very fun.”
Now, Luca substitutes at various churches, including at St. Patrick’s; St. Francis of Assisi in Greenlawn; and Christ Church Episcopalian in Oyster Bay.
With the scholarship, Luca will be serving as Christie’s assistant, which involves helping run the chapel music program that involves the organ, he will help host artists for the college’s recital series and assist them with the organ, and will perform each Sunday.
“We are very excited about Matt coming to Holy Cross and we are so pleased that he’ll be with us next fall,” Christie said. “He’s a great human being and I think he’s going to be a very good student, both academically and musically. And he’s going to be a brilliant musician.”
As a Friar, Luca is part of the St. Anthony’s Show Choir, chorus and Gregorian Schola. He says that he practices the organ every day of the week for typically 1.5-2 hours per day.
As the organ scholar, Luca is expected to major in music, take voice lessons, study organ privately for four years, and have a career goal in church music and/or the organ.
And his career goal indeed lies with the organ. Luca said he aspires to be collegiate professor specializing in the organ.
Looking forward to his time at Holy Cross, Luca said, he expects the college to be a gateway to his profession.
“I’m expecting a lot of work, but I’m also expecting to have a really great time,” he said. “I think that Holy Cross is the school that’s going to help me prepare for what I want to do in life.”