Sunday morning I arrived at church feeling a bit lethargic. I suppose the ‘spring forward’ time change may have had something to do with it. The church was not nearly as full as usual so I’m sure I wasn’t the only one feeling the effects of the time change. In fact when I awoke that morning I had wanted to sleep in and go to the 10 am mass, but my wife wanted to go at 8am, so there we were.
As mass started the choir did an entrance hymn and I found myself caught up in not only the song, but in the choir itself. There was something different about them Sunday morning, something just wasn’t right. Right away I thought it might be the time change, but then I remembered that I had felt the same way about them for a couple of Sunday’s now. Something had changed. When they sang the second time I was sure of it. Something was wrong. This wasn’t the same choir that used to rock the House, especially during the
Christmas holidays, the faces were the same, but any other similarity ended there.
Now don’t get me wrong, they sounded okay, but they used to sound incredible! The passion, enthusiasm and joy they usually displayed was nowhere to be seen, or heard. They seemed to just be going through the motions. The choir, made up of about 20 women and 4 men, were simply not feeling it and neither was I. The more I thought about it the more I realized that they haven’t really been the same since Christmas. After the holidays they took January off and returned refreshed. They had learned some new songs and sounded awesome! Then three weeks ago something changed. I began to wonder if their might be some internal group tension going on. It happens sometimes.
As I sat there in church my mind wandered back to my own church group experience. As a young man I belonged to a singing group called ‘Shalom’ at Our Lady of Guadalupe in Irwindale. It was quite an experience. Actually belonging to a musical group affiliated with the Catholic Church was the furthest thing from my mind. I’ve long had an on again, off again relationship with the Church. I was in an off mode at that time. In the summer of 71 I ran into my old friend Bob who I hadn’t seen in quite awhile. I’d known him since our parochial school days at St Frances of Rome in Azusa. Yeah, he and I were pretty tight. Our senior year after lunch we used to ditch school and go up to his house. He’d play his Door’s songs on his Gibson and I’d sing. “When the Music Over” and “Love me two times” were my favorites. Bob and I shared a number of life experiences together, a few I wish we hadn’t. Anyway, I ran into him at a church fiesta. We did some catching up and he told me about this rock guitar mass that they’d started. He introduced me to his fiance Barbara, who was also in the group and the next thing you know he invited me to his wedding which was the following weekend. Shalom was going to be playing.
Actually I had already heard about how active Bob had become at OLG and the Shalom group from my buddy Paul, who had joined a few months before. The truth is I had gone to fiesta in hopes of maybe running into Bob. I hadn’t seen or talked to him since betraying his trust. The last time I had spoken to him he had told me that his parents would probably be calling me and asking about him, he asked me not to let them know that he was back in town or that I had talked to him. I promised him I wouldn’t say anything.
His dad called my a few days later. True to my word I lied to him and that was that. About a week later his mom called me asking after him. Again I lied. I felt horrible doing it, she sounded frantic. She was like a second mom to me and I just couldn’t hurt her like that. I called back and spilled the beans to his dad. I told him everything I knew including where Bob was working and what shift he worked. His dad thanked me and that was that. I always felt bad about ratting him out, but his parents were hurting. I believed I had done the right thing , but still I had betrayed a friend.
I had long wondered what had happened and went to the fiesta in hopes of finding out. I mean Bob was involved with the church, I didn’t think he’d trounce me on sacred ground or anything. As it turned out, everything was cool. It turn out his dad was waiting for him when he got off work one night and they worked things out. I guess I done good.
I attended the wedding the following week. It was one of the most incredible weddings I’ve ever attended. Beautiful in its simplicity. And the Shalom Group were awesome! Their music was moving and heartfelt. It touched my very soul. I knew at once I needed to be a part of it. A few weeks later I was singing and playing guitar in the group. I felt as though I’d found a home. Several months later my girlfriend and future wife became a part of Shalom also.
Shalom means peace and all was peaceful, at least on the surface. Behind the scenes there was a lot of drama. At times there was quite a bit of tension going on It often seemed like we were the stars of our own little soap opera, and I was as guilty as anyone. Yeah, it was all very interesting. We started out being all about God’s glory but along the way the group began to lose focus and it no longer seemed to be about the giving glory to God, but only the glory. We had become a sensation. The plucky little guitar and singing group from Irwindale had come into it’s own. I remember Saturday nights after mass people would remain to hear us play, and play we would, getting off on the praise and adulation of the fans, sorry I mean parishioners.
Eventually Shalom broke up and Bob and Barbara went on playing and recording with a smaller group of former Shalomers. It’s funny, my buddy Paul had left Shalom a few years earlier, telling me that the group was a sham. I was outraged that he could think such a thing, but I guess in a way he was right. For quite sometime we were together for all the right reasons, to give God the glory, but somewhere along the line that changed and it all became too much of a show. I remember one particular Saturday night in the middle of mass some of the male singers were arguing over who was going to stand where, in front of the mike. They were bumping each other and jockeying for position. It was pathetic.
I will never forget my Shalom experience. It was still incredible. We had something really special going on there. The fellowship we shared was immeasurable. The love, laughter and tears were heartfelt. Yes, those Shalom years were some of the best years of my life. And in spite of the drama I would go back and do it all again in a heartbeat! It was truly beautiful.
I hope that whatever is going on with our current church choir passes quickly. They are an integral part of the service. With the exception of the last few weeks, their sound often remind me of Shalom and believe me, I enjoy being reminded of those glory days…