TONY MacPherson was mowing the lawn one day and he started humming a tune – a tune that would change his life.
That was 26 years ago, in the days when he was a teacher at Villanova College, an Augustinian school at Coorparoo in the southern suburbs of Brisbane, not far from Wynnum where he grew up in a staunch Catholic family.
Life was good and he was content but that day in his backyard behind the lawnmower was to shake him up in a way he could never have imagined.
“I was just mowing the lawn and out of the blue I began humming a tune to myself – I’d never heard it before but it was very, very peaceful,” Tony said.
“And then for weeks and weeks I just kept humming this tune, and every time I hummed it, the same thing – beautiful peace.”
Meanwhile, he’d be in the classroom at Villanova every other day teaching the boys maths and chemistry, mixing with the Augustinian priests who were running the school, and lunching each day with them and other members of staff.
He must’ve been absorbing something of the spirit of the great St Augustine without realising the effect it was having.
“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).”
After weeks of humming his mystery tune, it struck Tony one day that the melody “matched precisely 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 …’”
“So this exquisite tune that had been in my head, that I’d been just humming … now becomes the song,” he said.
“In five minutes, this song was penned.
“I’ve never been in a music class, I can’t play any musical instrument, so this revelation intrigued me.”
The song, which Tony titled The Way, became the first and title track on a CD album based on the life of Augustine as depicted in The Confessions of St Augustine.
It’s been a work of love that has consumed Tony’s life for 26 years as he delved deeper and deeper into the life and writings of the great saint.
When the self-proclaimed “accidental composer” had written his first song he showed it to one of his Year 11 students, Simon Hyland, who he knew was a fine singer.
It wasn’t long before Simon performed the song publicly for the first time at a Villanova family Mass.
With Tony composing the music and lyrics for the CD and concert, Simon took care of the musical arrangements.
As Tony learned more about Augustine, more melodies followed until Augustine: The Way – Songs of Love, Loss and Liberation was recorded at James Morrison Studios and released last year.
Augustine: The Way will be performed in concert at Villanova’s Hanrahan Theatre on June 1 and 2 as part of the college’s 70th anniversary celebrations.
Simon Hyland, now a professional actor, singer and musician who has performed in stage musical hits like Miss Saigon, Hot Shoe Shuffle, Show Boat, The Boy from Oz and Hair the musical, will return to his old school as the lead performer, joined by other accomplished singers Samantha Shaw and Caroline Mulvenna.
Tony has no doubt how all of this has happened for him.
“Oh, only one thing … 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’s pleased to be part of the anniversary celebrations because he loved teaching at Villanova.
He described it as “an oasis of love and learning”.
“The school was amazing,” he said.
“It was run really, really well – (with) an outstanding leader in Fr Laurie Mooney, the Augustinian priest, and he was supported by Charlie Fisher, who recently died – a tremendous administrator with a heart of gold.
“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 became engrossed in Augustine’s story, and Fr Mooney gave him his personal copy of The Confessions.
“I’ve read parts of it hundreds of times,” Tony said.
“It’s like an old friend whispers to me … It’s a beautiful book.”
Tony said it had changed his life completely and he wanted to know everything he could about Augustine.
In composing his songs, Tony wanted to portray what St Augustine felt.
“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.
Tony’s faith is “much deeper” for his Augustinian experience.
“You can’t read this man without being affected,” he said.
“If you listen to what he writes, really listen, you can see that he’s providing answers.
“He gives us answers for problems that all of us will encounter.
“He tells us God releases the shackles, or chains, which we have forged for ourselves …
“That’s a pretty powerful message.
“He tells teachers and parents the essence of great teaching and parenting.
“Halfway through his brilliant work, The City of God, he outlines the edict, ‘Love the sinner, hate the sin’.
“How can you read that and not be affected?
“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, at 7pm on Friday, June 1, and Saturday, June 2. Tickets are $25 and can be booked at theway.trueau.com.