The Second Vatican Council Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy speaks of the power of music in the Catholic Church. Musician John Michael Talbot echoed that notion to the Western New York Catholic last month. St. Amelia Parish in Tonawanda has a band that proves that music enhances worship.
Psalm 151, a nine-piece band featuring family and friends, has proven that music, good music, the right music, can draw a crowd to worship. The 4:30 p.m. Saturday Family Mass, where they play, has become the most attended at St. Amelia's.
The band began with keyboardist Paul Peterangelo and guitarist Patrick Johnson wanting their children to come to church with them, so they formed a family band.
"I have five daughters and pretty much all of them have been part of the band," said Peterangelo. "We're all family now anyway, so it's all good."
Other members of the group include Elaine Volker on piano and vocals, Steven Kroczynski on bass and vocals, Deanna Peterangelo on chimes and vocals, and Tabitha Peterangelo, Camryn Clune, Linda Coniglio andEmily Zinni, all on vocals. Amanda Peterangelo serves as their roadie.
In 2006, after doing some "church shopping," Peterangelo and his wife came to St. Amelia's and noticed there wasn't a contemporary music ministry. Peterangelo asked the pastor, Msgr. Thomas Maloney, if there was a place for the band. As luck would have it, the musician who played the Life Teen Masses had just given his resignation. Peterangelo invited Johnson to help lead The Life Teen Band, as they were then known. They tried, but found it hard to draw a big crowd.
"The attendance at the Life Teen Mass, sometimes we had more people in the band than in the congregation," he said.
When Life Teen ended, Msgr. Maloney asked them to take over 4:30 Saturday family Mass. Peterangelo and Johnson readily agreed, but it took a while for the congregation to warm up to their sound.
"When we first took over, our (parish) musical director Dan Fronckowiak had been doing that Mass. He had a good following there," Peterangelo said. "When we took over, a lot of parishioners were like, 'This music is totally different. We want Dan.' Father Tom was nice enough to stick with us. We've actually grown the Mass. Now it's the most attended Mass at St. Amelia's."
"They've gotten used to us," added Johnson.
Winning people over did not come easy. The band plays upbeat songs along the lines of Aussie band Hillsong Worship and Atlanta-based Passion, with guitars, bass, keyboards and the occasional mandolin.
"We play contemporary Christian music that most people haven't heard before. This is not traditional Christmas music. We'll do the traditional songs for the Mass - the opening songs, the closing songs," said Johnson.
"At Christmas we'll do Barenaked Ladies' 'God, Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,' and our congregation loves it when we do it," added Peterangelo. "I guess our stuff is more contemporary stuff, inline with what they would hear at the Chapel. It's a little different because it's not eight guitars doing the same thing like most folk groups. We're heavily electronic. Steve Kroczynski plays phenomenal bass. He's the newest member of the group and it just expanded our opportunities for the sound quality.
"When I turned away from the Church in my 20s, it was because I didn't want to sing 'Faith of Our Fathers' anymore. My father used to sing like Henry Kissinger, that voice (demonstrates deep bass tone). It was terrible. Watching my kids, they are excited to come and be a part of it since they have been growing up because the music is really an attraction to them," said Peterangelo.
Once they gave it a shot, the congregation found they really liked the music. Older parishioners have been seen at their concerts and even buy their CDs.
The band's new name came at one of their gigs when someone introduced them as "the next best Psalm." "Since there are 150 Psalms, that made us 151," explained Peterangelo. "You know it works when the bishop comes to confirmation and actually calls us by that name. Bishop Grosz has sent us some very nice letters. We sent him some CDs and he said he enjoyed it," he added.
In 2012, the band recorded their first CD, "Through It All," produced and funded exclusively by the band, with all proceeds to benefit the music department of St. Amelia School. Recorded at Outer Limit Studios in Buffalo, without overdubs or autotuning, the disc has an authentic sound, not like the overproduced pop heard on the radio these days. Through its availability on the Internet, the CD has been sold throughout the United States as well as Canada, China, France, England, Australia and South Korea. The band performs two healing Masses per year at the Our Lady of Fatima Shrine in Lewiston. They also play at Fatima's Festival of Lights Christmas concerts, as well as outdoor summer concerts and fundraisers such as last summers Rock it for Kayla.
In March 2016, online music site Reverbnation informed the band that they had achieved the honor of being the number 1 Buffalo Christian rock band. In celebration, Psalm 151 will return to the recording studio this year to begin work on their second CD, which will be Christmas themed. While the band has undergone changes in membership over the years, the core group has remained constant and this September, Psalm 151 will be celebrating its 10th year of music ministry.
"What's cool now is, we've been doing it so long, when we look into the congregation or we're at a concert and you see people singing along with us now. That's when I get really excited," said Peterangelo. "You look up and you're looking halfway back and you see some people and they're really feeling Christ in the music and they're really singing along. That to me is really neat."
The band continues to grow. Each fall, they hold auditions, looking for singers or musicians who blend in with the rest of the group. Young members have stayed solid with the Church as they grow up and go away to college.
"One of the things that first caught my attention of the group was the quality of the musicianship, the arrangements that are used, and the vocal blending with the music. It's just beautiful," Kroczynski said.
For concert information or to sample their music visit Psalm151.net.