Sacred Heart's music director plays the Grand Ole Opry
SALISBURY — It was the weekend of Palm Sunday – one of the most important times of the year for a parish music director. And Matthew Weaver, Sacred Heart's music director, could not lead the choir during Mass.
Instead, Weaver had an invitation to perform at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. It was a dream eight years in the making – years of performing country and bluegrass music, recording albums, and struggling to get a foothold on the country music scene. He just couldn't miss this chance.
Fortunately, his pastor, Father John T. Putnam, knew all about Weaver's budding professional music career and understood how important this opportunity was to him. He told Weaver it would be OK to bow out as music director that weekend, and go to Nashville and try his luck on stage.
"Father John is very supportive of me and my music," Weaver said. "He knew I was pursuing that dream for many, many years and how important it was for me to go. I had to go. I couldn't turn down the opportunity of a lifetime after trying for eight years."
So on Palm Sunday weekend, Weaver traveled to Nashville and took his place on one of the most famous stages in the world, standing on the same eight-foot "sacred circle" of oak flooring where every country music legend since 1943 has stood and crooned or strummed their tunes. Roy Acuff. Hank Williams Sr. Patsy Cline. Ralph Stanley. Johnny Cash. Loretta Lynn. Reba McEntire. Ricky Van Shelton. Brad Paisley. Vince Gill. Alan Jackson. Every country, bluegrass and Gospel singer worth his or her salt over the past 50 years has played the Opry.
Weaver was finally joining them, and all he could think about was his idol, Dolly Parton.
Weaver has always admired Parton's music and social activism, he said. While attending and teaching music at Appalachian State University, his respect has only grown for her work, which highlights the social issues that mountain residents still struggle with in their lives today.
"Dolly is true and genuine," Weaver said. "She came from nothing and was born into poverty. She's one of the biggest influences in my life."
Weaver comes from a musical family, and his first love was the piano – learning to play when he was just 3. It was the first of many instruments he learned to play by ear; now he can play 19.
In 1984 his family moved to Salisbury, and his love of country music grew as he heard the unique music of the Appalachian mountains. The different styles of bluegrass, hillbilly and old-time mountain music are some of his favorites, he said.
In 1999 he took a job as the music director at Sacred Heart Church and School. He wasn't Catholic, but he loved having the chance to play music, he said.
"The music director at the time was leaving. They asked me to just come in and see if I would be the interim music director until they hired someone. They had no one else to play. I said, 'sure.' It was a whole new learning experience for me because I wasn't raised Catholic."
It didn't take long for Weaver to learn the musical settings for Mass, and the beauty of the faith captured his attention. In 2002, he converted to Catholicism. Thirteen years after first coming to Sacred Heart Church, he is at home, yet he is yearning to stretch his musical career.
"I've had people at church threaten to kill me if I leave. They say I'm the best music director they've had in over 30 years," Weaver joked.
Now that he has played the Opry, Weaver said he is even more determined to continue building his professional music career.
He has been invited to come back and play at the Opry this fall. He will also headline a special Country Christmas show in December in Salisbury that will be recorded for a live-performance album. Eventually, Weaver will graduate from ASU, and then his plans will probably take him away from Sacred Heart Parish.
"I love everyone at church, but my heart and my fingers belong on the stage," he said.
Hear Matthew Weaver's music
Check out the music of Matthew Weaver, including his Grand Ole Opry performance, at www.matthewweavermusic.com.
— Cindia G. Leonard, correspondent
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FROM THE PASTORS
Read and listen to homilies posted regularly by pastors at parishes within the Diocese of Charlotte:
- Fr. Frank Cancro at Queen of the Apostles
- Fr. Patrick Earl at St. Peter in Charlotte
- Fr. John Eckert at St. John the Baptist in Tryon
- Fr. Timothy Reid at St. Ann in Charlotte
- Fr. Benjamin Roberts at Our Lady of Lourdes in Monroe
- Fr. Patrick Winslow at St. Thomas Aquinas in Charlotte
- Watch full Masses live and on demand, listen to homilies and reflections from Sacred Heart Church in Salisbury
- Listen to homilies from St. William Catholic Church in Murphy