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Silent night, doo-wop night

Choir has the manger rocking at Christmas Eve Mass

Monday, December 25, 2000

By Marylynne Pitz, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

The Spanish call Christmas Eve "Noches Buena," which means good night. Last evening was definitely a good night for the more than 1,200 people who crowded into Epiphany Catholic Church to hear a uniquely harmonious Christmas Eve Mass sung by the Pittsburgh DooWop Choir.

The 32-member Pittsburgh DooWop Choir participates in the Christmas Eve Mass in Epiphany Catholic Church, Uptown. (Gabor Degre, Post-Gazette)

Part prayer, part concert and all doo-wop, the nearly two-hour Mass featured the 32-member choir, which greeted the newborn Jesus with hand-clapping and bop-she-bopping.

The choir is made up of singers who belong to famous doo-wop groups such as the Vogues, the Marcels, the Four Dots, 4real, the Wee-Jams, and Lou Daniels and the El Venos. Many of the choir members perform in doo-wop groups throughout the region.

Directed by Johnny Angel, who jokes that he is "fiftyish," the choir harmonized its way through a whole range of Christmas songs ranging from the foot-tapping gospel tune "I Pray on Christmas," to the peaceful, candlelit conclusion of "Silent Night."

The red-robed choir sang all of the responses, too, including the Alleluia that acclaimed the gospel, then rocked through the Great Amen and performed the Lord's Prayer a cappella.

"Ave Maria" featured guitarist Benny Faiella and his son Jimmy Faiella on mandolin with Keith Dix singing the sacred aria.

"We've been rehearsing for the last month," said Johnny Angel, also known as Jack Hunt of Brighton Heights.

On Sundays and Wednesdays for the past four weeks, the choir gathered at Dance Time Studio in Crafton to rehearse, Hunt said, adding that the studio's owner, Kathy Impavido, was gracious enough to loan the space to the choir.

Hunt, of Johnny Angel and the Halos fame, grew up singing doo-wop on the city's North Side and lived in Manchester and other North Side neighborhoods.

On the hit parade of Christmas Eve services, the doo-wop Mass is a relatively new phenomenon. The event debuted in 1995 at St. Margaret's Church in Moon, moved to Risen Lord parish on the North Side in 1996 and played at St. Augustine's in Lawrenceville in 1997.

That same year, churchgoers had to be turned away.

"An hour before the Mass, (radio station) 3WS had to get on the air and ask people not to come because it was too crowded," Hunt said.

In 1998, the doo-wop Mass was held at St. Ferdinand's, a large parish in Cranberry. Last year, the Mass was held at Epiphany Catholic Church, a restored Uptown architectural gem that once served as the city's main Roman Catholic cathedral.

The traditional officiant of the Mass is the Rev. Scott Seethaler, a Capuchin priest who conducted a stress reduction seminar for employees of 3WS radio station in September 1995.

During the seminar, the priest clicked so well with the station's staff that when the idea of a doo-wop Mass was proposed, he was invited to celebrate it. Seethaler grew up loving The Vogues, the Skyliners and Lou Christie.

Last night, he told the congregation that the feast of Christmas can be kept on every day of the year.

"We celebrate Christmas every time we love without counting the cost because in that way we become Jesus for each other," Seethaler said.

The Pittsburgh DooWop Choir plans to release an album and may have the chance to play the Palace Theater in Cleveland, Hunt said.

Hunt hopes that young people, some of whom have drifted away from religion, will be drawn to Christmas Eve Mass.

"When you team up with 3WS, Father Scott and the Pittsburgh DooWop Choir, you've reached just about everybody."

Richard Knauss, who sang on The Marcels famous recording of "Blue Moon," loved singing in the large cathedral.

"What acoustics! That big, high ceiling," Knauss said, made for great reverberations.

Leon Daniels, who helped reunite the Four Dots 31/2 years ago, said audiences love to hear the group perform its big hits, including "Rita," "He-Man Looking for a She Girl" and "Kiss Me, Sugar Plum."

The doo-wop Mass, Daniels said, is special for all of the singers and musicians who participate.

"It brings us all together on one chord. When you hear all of the voices blending together, it gives you goose pimples."

The doo-wop Mass will be broadcast at noon today on 3WS, FM 94.5.

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