Catholic Mom Music Spotlight

Maria Blvd. 

 

(Editors Note: Two members of the Maria Blvd. Group - John Ruspantini and Robert Pittman - are providing the answers to the questions).

 

Maria Blvd Discography

Click on CD cover for additional information

 

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Catholic Mom - Thanks so much for your participation in this CatholicMom.com Music Spotlight. Can you please tell us a bit about yourself and your family?

Bob and John: Maria Blvd. is comprised of five (5) members - Adrian Butter, Tom Federowicz, Robert Pittman, John Ruspantini and Carol Kovacic Stasko. All members are married and live in the Binghamton, NY area.

Bob and John: We were all raised in Catholic families. Both Carol and Bob's mothers were involved in their respective churches as choir directors, with Tom meeting Carol and singing and playing with her when they were young. John's father sang in the church choir and a local opera company. Adrian comes from a more international background, with a Dutch father who traveled extensively as part of his international banking business. By day, we all have our respective personal and professional responsibilities, but by night and weekends we are Catholic musicians. Tom, John and Carol are the group's songwriters, and Tom and John know their way around sound recording.

Catholic Mom - What do you feel makes your music unique? What are some of your goals and hopes for your music?

John and Bob: Our group, Maria Blvd, has been the resident contemporary ensemble at Our Lady of Sorrows Church (OLS), Vestal, NY for about the past 10 years. We have focused on infusing a distinctive contemporary folk style, highlighted by intricate harmonies and instrumentation, into a wide variety of liturgical music. A big part of what makes our style unique is that the members of the group come from quite diverse musical backgrounds, and we're not afraid to blend them into our songs. We all come to the table with styles and ideas that have some reflection of where we've been. Our backgrounds include rock, jazz, classical, big band, barbershop quartet, and yes, church music. So when we come together to perform a well-known liturgical standard, each adds a sprinkle of his or her own flavor. It's not unusual to hear an old standard such as "They'll Know We Are Christians" laced with a funky James Brown style bass part, intricate guitar work and four-part harmonies all happening at the same time. In recent years we had a special addition to the group in the person of Father Lawrence Mbogo, a priest from Kenya who was assigned to the parish. Father Lawrence often sat in with group playing his kayamba, an African percussion instrument made of bamboo and seeds. The addition of the kayamba added a very distinctive flavor to the group's sound. Father Lawrence's kayamba playing is featured on several tracks of our debut CD entitled On The Way.

Although Maria Blvd contains five distinct personalities, we share some common goals. We are all in agreement that our primary objective is to enhance the musical liturgy in our local parishes. All too often, the music that we hear at Sunday Mass is not inspiring, and we have witnessed the power of keeping music fresh and alive and how it adds to weekly devotion. Secondly, we would like to see our CD reach as many interested folks as possible. The CD is generally mellow and contemplative, and we have received much positive feedback from people who find it comforting as they face daily trials and tribulations. The most difficult part is getting the word out. We have read that 30,000 new CDs are produced every year, and only a few hundred are promoted. This makes it all the more difficult to get any one release visible to potential listeners. And, with Catholic music in such a minority, getting such a CD heard is all the more difficult. We appreciate CatholicMom for giving this opportunity to talk about Maria Blvd and our On The Way CD.

We also believe that it is important that the Catholic community generate and promote as much quality Catholic music as possible since the secular music media is constantly bombarding us with so much material that is in conflict with the teachings of the church. Our hope is that more Catholics will choose to have Catholic music playing in their homes, cars, or wherever they may be.

Catholic Mom - Please describe your own faith journeys with the Catholic Church, and how this has impacted upon your music ministry.

John: I was raised in a devout Catholic family. Some of my earliest childhood memories are of the family praying the rosary with my paternal grandmother. I attended Catholic schools mostly and was very involved with church activities growing up. For a time, I drifted off into rock bands, but never really found my niche. One day in the mid 90s, I was asked to play in church. I loved it! Eventually, I felt that I had discovered the reason for my musical inclinations. At this time, I'm completely devoting my musical efforts toward Catholic music through performance, composition and production.

Bob: We mentioned above that both Carol and I were raised by mothers who were church choir directors, and that Tom and Carol have known each other and played together for many years. So, most of us have truly "grown up" with liturgical music in one form or another. But, perhaps similar to John, once out of Catholic school I wandered away from the church, spent years focused in other directions, and did not really return until I joined Maria Blvd. Calling it a "faith journey" is truly accurate.

Catholic Mom - Fill us in on your musical backgrounds....What kind of musical training have you had? What's your favorite type of music?

John: I personally have had some training in guitar and bass; private lessons only, no real formal training. The sound engineering I've picked up on my own. I don't believe any of the Maria Blvd. members are conservatory trained. My favorite musical styles include certain types of jazz, classical guitar, limited amounts of pop and rock music and, of course, Catholic music (particularly guitar based).

Bob: We've all had a few music lessons along the way, including childhood piano lessons for Tom, Carol and I, and Violin lessons for Adrian. But, to the greatest extent we're all pretty much self-taught. In a way, that's great since it allows us to do some silly things that perhaps we don't even know are silly. We arrange songs more by feel, experience and desired "mood" than by training.

Catholic Mom - Who are some of your favorite recording artists both Catholic and non-Catholic?

John and Bob: That's a hard question to answer. But, on the Catholic side, we're definitely partial to John Michael Talbot. Maria Blvd attended a John Michael Talbot concert about a year or so ago. It's safe to say that we all admire JMT's music. There's also Tom Booth, Matt Maher, Steve Angrisano, Marty Haugen...and the list could go on.

John: In the secular vein, I lean towards contemporary artists such as Jeff Lorber, Spyro Gyra, Larry Carlton (jazz), Andres Segovia (classical guitar) and the Beatles (pop).

Catholic Mom - How do you choose the music you record? If you write original lyrics, what is the inspiration behind your words?

John: The cover music that was chosen for On The Way was taken primarily from a list of songs that we regularly perform at Mass. They are personal as well as OLS congregation favorites. The original compositions assembled by Tom, Carol and me are taken from personal experiences. I also believe that the Holy Spirit has a hand in crafting these songs. Tom has been writing songs for years and has a significant catalog of both Catholic and secular original songs. He's our primary arranger. Carol and I are a bit newer to the Catholic music songwriting scene.

Catholic Mom - What can Catholic parents do to support Catholic recording artists? How can we help our children make good listening choices?

John and Bob: Catholic parents can start at home by supporting their own church's music ministry. As mentioned above, the next step is to support Catholic recording artists by bringing Catholic music into the home and playing it for the family. Look for opportunities to go to Catholic music concerts; or better yet, help organize one! If you have a local Catholic radio station or internet radio access, tune in.

Parents need to lead by example. When children are very young, their parents make their decisions for them. But, as children get older and, especially when they reach middle school and high-school, there are many more influences and peer pressure and the myriad of choices can make things confusing. Especially at those ages, parents need to "walk the talk" and provide a good example, be non-judgmental, and keep an open ear. To help our children make good listening (and viewing) choices, we parents must first make good choices for ourselves. There are at least two key parts to this: (1) We must know our own faith inside and out in order to develop the discernment needed to assemble a list of appropriate entertainment that is in line with the teachings of the church; and (2) Begin what can be viewed as a radical, arduous and easily criticized task to eliminate music and television programming that promotes negative messages such as violence, sexual abuse, selfishness, hatred etc. The "shock factor" is high nowadays in the media in order to catch listener/viewer attention, and on any given day you can find plenty of examples of the media bombarding us with material that makes these activities seem like acceptable normative behavior. Parents need to provide an active filter as well as openly talk to their children about what is being displayed in the media. Read and listen to music lyrics, especially outside the context of the music, and you’ll see the messages that are being conveyed. Are these words that are worthy to be spoken in the presence of Jesus?

Catholic Mom - What future projects are you working on?

John: Right now the group is on hiatus, taking a much-deserved break. Another record would be great, although nothing is planned as of this writing. One possibility is another Maria Blvd project that would bring in other musicians that have participated with the core group over the years, perhaps involving more original material.

Catholic Mom - How can our readers order your music? Are you working on any future projects you’d like to share about?

John: Your readers can place a mail order with me via e-mail. My e-mail address is jjruspantini@stny.rr.com . The Catholic Music Network is also carrying the Cd. There you can hear some sound clips of our work. Just type "Maria Blvd" into their search engine. Readers may also wish to visit our website at http://home.stny.rr.com/olsorrows/maria_blvd.htm for more details. There are also a number of places to buy the CD in the Binghamton, NY area, as noted on our website.

Also, I am currently building a new recording studio that will be dedicated to producing Catholic music. My hope is that it will be up and running in early 2005. I'm also exploring the possibility of founding a new Catholic music record label. There are many obstacles in this journey; I ask that your readers pray that the path be made clear and straight.

Catholic Mom - Are there any additional thoughts or comments that you would like to share with our CatholicMom.com readers?

John and Bob: We want to encourage your readers to support your local church's music ministry and Catholic artists in general by purchasing Catholic music, attending Catholic music concerts and tuning into Catholic radio. Catholic artists are often precluded from engaging in the Protestant-dominated mainstream Christian music scene. As such, we believe it is incumbent upon Catholics to support Catholic artists, who are often producing material independently and at significant personal expense. The fruits of their labors will be harvested only when the Catholic community embraces this body of work.

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