Battle of the bands

While waiting for Pope Benedict XVI to make his appearance outside the Vatican Embassy April 16, two choirs engaged in a friendly version of the old-fashioned “battle of the bands.”

In one corner: the gospel choir from Assumption Parish in Washington. About 20 choir members, most of them decked out in burgundy sweaters, sang spirituals and more recent gospel compositions.  Jeff Corry, the director, said he was saving a Ricky Dillard tune, “Our Father, You Are Holy,” for the moment the pope came out.

In the other corner was the Hispanic choir of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in the Washington suburb of Bethesda, Md. While the gospel choir was singing a cappella, the Our Lady of Lourdes group was backed by guitar and trumpet. On guitar was Father Javier Santaballa, associate pastor of the parish. “I’ve been playing since I was 13,” he said. “That means I’ve been playing — aieee! — 19 years.” He led a variety of English and Spanish songs on both sides of the guitar, beating out a rhythm on its backside when leading a chant of “Benedetto!” “Benedict” in Spanish.

His accompanist on trumpet was Dan Gannon, who suggested to Father Santaballa that he bring his trumpet along. “Go for it!” was the priest’s reply. Gannon got to go because he teaches a confirmation class in his parish. His 14-year-daughter, also at the embassy, was one of his students. She’s also a trumpet player, as his Gannon’s 11-year-old son. The 10-year-old son, though, is a violinist. “He’s the free thinker in the family,” Gannon said. Despite having just a few days’ notice that he would be able to see the pope at the embassy, he had no problem getting off work for the day. “I’m my own boss,” said Gannon, a home-improvement contractor, before confiding, “I have a jerk for a boss.”

The Assumption choir took the early lead as it spun out song after song, seemingly without effort. But the Our Lady of Lourdes choir caught up to them, if not surpassed them, with its spirited renditions from a smaller sampling of songs.


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