Priest band goes rock-rock-rocking on heaven's door
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MISSION, Kan. (CNS) -- If that pulsing beat and those screaming guitars are driving you crazy at night, think twice before calling the cops on those rock-star wannabes jammin' out down the street. You might just find your pastor singing lead.
That's right. Four priests of the Archdiocese of Kansas City - three of them pastors - and a layman studying for the permanent diaconate have been putting in the after-hours lately, rehearsing for their next gig. In fact, the three pastors - Fathers Ken Kelly, Mark Mertes and John Reynolds - are celebrating the 15th anniversary of their combination oldies-rock group called the Priest Band. The group's first gig was at a parish appreciation dinner and ice cream social at St. Joseph Parish in Olpe, said Father Mertes, pastor of Holy Cross Parish in Overland Park. "We performed as a singalong group," he explained. "But during our next gig, we were asked to leave room for a dance area when we set up. So we quickly turned into a performance band." Now joined by the associate pastor of Cure of Ars Parish in Leawood, Father Kent O'Connor, and a diaconate candidate, Carl Parry, the Priest Band is rehearsing for several scheduled appearances in the upcoming months. This self-described "garage band" performs at parish and community events, such as ice cream socials and conventions. Its gigs are few and far between - usually no more than a half-dozen a year - but that's plenty for their busy schedules. "My motto is, 'Our fame exceeds our talent,'" organizer Father Mertes explained with a laugh. But the group's playlist is as varied as its members' talents. It includes popular rock hits such as Elvis Presley's "All Shook Up" and the Eagles' "Peaceful Easy Feeling." Oldies like "Rockin' Robin," "Sunny Side of the Street" and "Side by Side" are there as well. "We perform happy, hopeful music and songs that work for our group and for the group we are playing for," explained Father Kelly, pastor of St. Pius X in Mission. One of their specialties is a repertoire of '30s and '40s hits performed like the original recordings, including "Tip Toe Though the Tulips" (later recorded by Tiny Tim in the 1960s). This crowd-pleaser features Father Kelly on the ukulele. "I have about 10 ukuleles," said Father Kelly. "All from garage sales. One is an authentic 1920s' instrument with a hula dancer on it." Father Kelly considers himself a "utility player," and his facility with the banjo, guitar, harmonica, bass guitar and ukulele lend credence to his claim. His interest in music began in his youth, and he started guitar lessons in the fourth grade. Music remained a part of his life throughout college in Indiana, where he joined a band called Milo and the Combines. Father Reynolds, pastor of three archdiocesan parishes, plays bass but is also proficient at the tuba and baritone trombone, which he played as a member of the marching band of Shawnee Mission Northwest High School. "One year we even played at the Orange Bowl," he told The Leaven, Kansas City's archdiocesan newspaper. On acoustic guitar for the Priest Band is Father Mertes. He began taking guitar lessons in the sixth grade and began singing in church long before becoming a priest. The newest addition to the group, Parry, played drums growing up in Topeka, and even had his own rock band in high school. The band performed several gigs, including high school proms, for pay. Father O'Connor was also drawn to music at an early age. Growing up, he sang in the youth choir at Christ the King Parish in Topeka and started taking classical guitar lessons in the third grade. He joined the Priest Band playing just the guitar, but started teaching himself the mandolin about two years ago in order to add a little variety to the band's songs. Vocal duties are shared by all but Parry, although Father Reynolds sings lead on only a few numbers. The remaining three priests sing both solo and in two- or three-part harmony. As much as all five appreciate the way the band helps them keep music in their lives, all agree that it also serves as a release for them. "Singing takes me out of my everyday life and gives me a chance to do something different," said Father Mertes. "This is a fun group of guys, and it's nice getting together with them to make music."
Copyright (c) 2007 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
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