The tolling of the Angelus bells before noon Mass encapsulates a moment of music bringing families together: It is a call to young and old alike to cease from labor and turn together toward God.
This notion of families gathering in faith deeply informs the music of L’Angélus, a zesty Louisiana-roots band comprised of siblings Stephen, Katie, Paige and John Rees.
Music has been bringing the Rees family together in tangible ways, starting with their parents meeting when John Sr. was wooed by Linda’s singing at Mass.
“We grew up in a very musical atmosphere,” Paige Rees explains, as Linda regularly sang and played guitar with them.
The rich musical culture in which the Reeses were immersed in southern Louisiana likewise embodies a notion of music bringing families together.
“You go to a dance hall and everyone’s on the floor together, from babies to mamas and papas,” Katie says. “We come from a culture where music brings families together, rather than separating them by age.”
Needless to say, the music of L’Angélus celebrates a commitment to family life.
“We want music which is uplifting and which speaks truth about life, family and love,” Katie says. They also manifest this commitment in their infectiously joyous performances, which mix original material with jams on classic covers.
“Part of our mission is witnessing to family life, to give an example of a family working together and loving it,” Paige says.
“People have told us that it makes them want to do more together with their family,” Paige adds. She categorizes the mission of L’Angélus as being of the “holy secular.”
Their groove-based Southern music has been labeled zydeco, Cajun and swamp rock, but they prefer the more encompassing term “Louisiana roots,” wherein “you can play whatever you want with a Louisiana sound,” says John.
Genres aside, L’Angélus’ music features a strong syncopated fiddle and, Paige adds, themes “close to the hearts and lives of our Acadian ancestors.
“We play music which is celebratory, danceable, but which also addresses issues of life and heartache with the Christian virtue of hope,” she explains. The songs on their 2005 album “Ça C’est Bon!” are immersed in the everyday, in falling in love and losing one’s way, and turning toward the Catholic faith.
The example of those ancestors is near to the heart of L’Angélus, whose spelling and pronunciation (“lawn-jay-loose”) articulates a link to their French-Acadian heritage.
The Acadians’ refusal to compromise their Catholicism (for which they were driven from Nova Scotia to Louisiana) is of utmost importance to Cajun culture, Paige says.
“Yes, we have great food; yes, we love to have a good time and listen to music and be hospitable, but those things flow from the fact that our ancestors valued the faith over their land or prosperity. Our cultural identity comes from the fact that we wouldn’t have a culture to identify with if they hadn’t believed that the Catholic faith was the center of their lives.”
Over the past eight years, L’Angélus has developed into a nationally-traveling purveyor of two-stepping and Cajun culture, but in embryonic form, it consisted of Linda Rees playing the guitar at coffee shops.
“After a few shows, Katie started singing with her,” Paige recollects, “and she got free ice cream, so we decided it was high time we learned to sing.”
A few years later, John Sr., recognizing the musical inclinations of his progeny, gave the children various musical instruments for Christmas.
“Our parents have consistently nurtured and encouraged us,” Paige says. “Dad suggested we learn one song together to sing at mom’s shows, and it’s just snowballed from there.”
Not only did this musical nurturing lead to L’Angélus, it also led the Reeses to the teachings of the Church. Because their touring schedule precluded continuing in public school, they started home schooling. Not only did home schooling enhance family bonds, it introduced them to families who, Paige says, “witnessed to us with their devotion to the Church, each other and daily Mass.”
Katie adds that their parents, inspired by these exemplars of family life, realized that God was calling them to be open to life after 12 years of using contraception.
“We’re so thankful, because we’d beg them for more kids, and now we have four more!” Katie exclaims. “Our parents’ biggest witness to us has been their generosity and sacrifice,” Paige adds.
This generosity and openness to life extended to fostering two young children whose mother is currently unable to support them. The Reeses met them one night outside a music venue in New Orleans and offered their home when they found out the children were living in shelters.
Like their Acadian ancestors, the Rees family also faced the temptation to sell out their Cajun-Catholic identity, as they were wooed by a major booking agency who promised them big-time success if they were willing to redefine and homogenize their image.
Paige paraphrases the sales pitch: “We think y’all have talent, and we want to take what you’re doing and completely change it and see if we can exploit it.” Tempting as that offer was, they passed.
“We feel that people respond to the authenticity of L’Angélus and the fact that it directly reflects our lives,” she explains.
In the course of conversation, the Reeses consistently return to the theme of openness to family and life.
“Over the years, with four more siblings and two foster siblings, our parents have shown us that all the struggle and the hard work is totally worth it,” Katie says. “Having little ones around makes you realize you’re part of something much bigger than yourself.”
The same could be said of L’Angélus.
Iain Bernhoft is based in