February 2005 Catholic Exponent Article‘Power of Praise’ group reaches out to Catholics of all ages
By Jo-Lynn A. Hunter
They play in a rock ‘n’ roll style. They hold nothing back. Their motto remains “All for you, Lord.”
POP, “Power of Praise,” is a local Praise and Worship (Christian Rock) Band whose members are Catholics from across the diocese. POP started playing locally in December 2003. Band members include Struthers St. Nicholas parishioners Carol and Bill Rinehart, Kathy Trimble, and Sam Coppola; Austintown St. Joseph parishioners Jimmy Gianotti and John Stanchin; Boardman St. Luke parishioners Thom Godward and Paul Toth; and Cleveland St. Charles parishioner Dave Reider. The group’s soundmen are Billy Rinehart and Michael Coppola, both of St. Nicholas.
Christian Rock is slowly becoming part of today’s mainstream music industry. The praise and worship style of music has even had its own category in the Gospel Music Association’s “Dove Awards.”
“What distinguishes Christian Rock (or Praise and Worship music) is that we sing praise to the Lord; most rock ‘n’ roll does not. In fact some [rock music] has a rather dark side to it,” said Rinehart.
POP has performed at parish festivals, including Boardman St. Luke, Austintown Immaculate Heart of Mary, and Campbell St. Joseph the Provider. The band also performed at this year’s First Night Youngstown (New Year’s Eve) celebration. “As a Christian Praise and Worship band, we drew the biggest crowd at the event,” Gianotti said.
The group also performs – or “prayerforms,” as the band likes to say – at the Evenings of Praise and Worship held at St. Joseph the Provider Parish. The evenings consist of prayer, music, Scripture readings, a homily, procession with the Blessed Sacrament, and benediction. Catholics from various parishes across the diocese and representing a wide age range attend the evenings.
POP encourages their audiences to sing along with them, projecting the lyrics to each of their songs onto a screen, or even a blank wall. Father Michael Swierz, St. Joseph the Provider pastor, said having POP perform makes the service more charismatic than a regular Sunday Mass.
Gary Dechant of Youngstown St. Dominic Parish regularly attends the Evenings of Praise and Worship at St. Joseph. “The group has a very energetic style; they’re inspirational,” he said. Dechant first heard POP perform while on a Cursillo weekend. Members of the group often attend Cursillo together and play music throughout the weekend. (Cursillo is a Catholic spiritual movement begun in Spain in 1949. Participants attend a three-day weekend retreat for men or for women, focusing on prayer, education and Christian action.)
Reider was not involved in music until age 35, when he was approached to sing in the Men’s Choir at his former parish, Niles Our Lady of Mount Carmel. The choir was accompanied by a guitar player and a keyboard player. After two years of singing, the choir lost its guitarist. Upon hearing this news, Reider confessed to having an old guitar under his bed, an instrument he never learned to play. Reider took some vacation time and taught himself to strum along to the few songs the choir was to sing.
“I was so nervous that I dropped the pick before the first song and had to play with my thumb,” Reider recalls. “There are no ‘off chances’ with God. It was his plan. He presents these opportunities.”
And God had an even bigger plan in the works for him.
Gianotti and his wife, Nancy, had attended a Festival of Praise at Franciscan University of Steubenville and were impressed by the “ton of college kids [they encountered there] raising their hands and praising God. And they were all Catholic!” Gianotti turned to his wife and said, “Wouldn’t it be cool to have something like this [in our diocese]?” He prayed, “OK, God, if you want this to happen, you have to tell me how.” In an answer to his prayer, “He put [old friend] Dave Reider’s name in my heart.”
The two men were equally excited about the idea of starting a Catholic Praise and Worship band, but they did not follow up on it right away. Two months later, when Gianotti mentioned the idea to Father Swierz, he replied, “That’s a great idea, let’s schedule something for December.” With no songs and no band yet assembled, Gianotti voiced a concern that he would be ready to perform by then. The pastor said, “That’s OK, you will.”
Gianotti called Reider to tell him they had their first gig scheduled. After several phone calls to some musicians he had met in past folk and choir groups, Power of Praise was on its way to being born.
“I think POP has a fresh contemporary sound,” Father Swierz said.
Godward insists, “We are of the older generation, but it’s this generation here [referring to his band] that defined rock ‘n’ roll.”
The group’s repertoire includes 40-50 contemporary Christian songs, such as “Draw Me Close” (with lyrics: “You are all I want. Help me know you are near... Draw me close to you. Never let me go”) and “Breathe,” a song Stanchin says “gives me holy goose bumps” (with lyrics: “This is the air I breathe, Your Holy presence living in me, Your very word spoken to me. I’m desperate for you. I’m lost without you”).
Dechant notices a “spiritual vibrancy” to each performance. At shows there is an enormous range of ages gathered, from teens to grandparents. Many sing, some clap, others stomp their feet.
“A lot of Catholics are hungry for charismatic music,” said Gianetti. “Some go to other religions because they can’t find that [music].” He pointed out that “the Catholic Church started the Charismatic movement; they started this kind of music.”
Reider admitted that a (Catholic) family member of his attends a local Baptist church with her friends, “because they love the music.”
A goal of POP is to book a different parish every month “to give each parish a taste of this kind of music and let parishioners know this type of music is out there and that Catholics do do this, man,” Gianetti said.
If Catholic parishes won’t make this music available, especially for teens, “there are plenty of other places they will go to hear it,” said Stanchin. “We need to let them know that the Catholic Church does do this, because there are a lot of other churches out there who will gladly cater to the kids and pull the young away from the Catholic Church.”
POP will perform at the March 5 Evening of Praise and Worship, 7 p.m. at Campbell St. Joseph the Provider Parish. The band encourages people of every age to attend and sing along. After all, “Singing is praying twice,” said Kathy Trimble.