Chords and Truth

Catholic musician Steve Angrisano has become something of a staple at diocesan and national youth events. As well he should be: At the 2006 Unity Awards, he came away with statues for Artist of the Year, Songwriter of the Year and Song of the Year. He spoke with Register correspondent Barry Michaels from Boulder, Colo., where the musician lives with his wife, Jenni, and their three children.

You swept the top categories in the top Catholic music-awards ceremony. How do you top a year like that?

Yeah, there’s definitely a little pressure now. The next recording is going to be a live one. I’m excited about it, because it reflects my growth over the past 10 years.

What I do every day is so tied to the live experience. A working musician may go into the studio every two or three years, but he performs hundreds or even thousands of times during the same period. So, in a way, this live recording will be a lot more reflective of what I’m out there doing every day.

“Mighty King,” which won Song of the Year, has become quite a hit for you.

What I was trying to express is, We have a God who is bigger than all the turmoil of our world. I wanted it to be something you put on and go, “Yeah, that’s my God!” And I wanted it to be, not a ballad, but a toe-tapper.

Sometimes the songs you think are going to be people’s favorites are not always that. It’s like God’s little joke for me. What are probably my two most popular songs are not the songs I wrote and I thought, “Yeah, that’s it, that’s the one.”

Sometimes there’s just a synergy between the writing, the singing, the people who played the instruments, and you end up with something where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. That’s what happened with “Mighty King.” The other big one, “Go Make a Difference,” happened in a similar way.

How did you get your start in contemporary Catholic music?

I grew up in Dallas, Texas. I had a great experience of faith in my family. Mom was head of the confirmation program at our parish. I have good memories of praying the Rosary together as a family. My family put faith first. It helped me see the Church as a place where I was comfortable. And music was always part of that.

In second grade, I was singing in the choir. In seventh grade, I was playing at the Saturday evening Masses. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t singing. I didn’t grow up in a band that played Beatles songs. I grew up in a church group playing “Here I Am, Lord.”

My first job out of college was as a youth minister at St. Mark parish in Plano, Texas. That’s where the pieces came together for my ministry and my music. The roots of what I do have always been there, working with youth in parish ministry and doing it with music.

I just started getting calls from parishes and groups. ‘Can you do the music for this convocation Mass or this retreat?’ From there, one thing led to another.

Are you able to make a living on music alone?

I’ve been doing it full time since 1987. I never imagined that would be possible when I first started out. It’s been such an adventure.

The hard part, of course, is the traveling. It’s hard to be away from my family as often as I am. But the flip side is that it’s almost all weekends. During the week, I’m mostly home — and I’m the breakfast dad and the homework dad.

You’ve performed at several World Youth Day events. Did you meet Pope John Paul?

Yes. I saw him at each of them, of course. But I was able to meet him in 1999, when I was an emcee at a youth rally in St. Louis. What an incredible experience. John Paul II was a person who was transparent. When you saw him, he disappeared and you saw God’s love.

The truth is, I had prepared myself so that, when I met him, I was going to say “Hello, how are you” in Polish. Well, not only did I blank out on the Polish, I blanked out on the English, too. I ended up just standing there holding his hand, until he sort of gave me a look that said, “Okay, I gotta go now.”

Besides the music you play in concert, you also write liturgical music. Tell us about that.

The Eucharist is an integral part of my life. In fact, it’s one of the reasons I fell in love with my wife; it was an integral part of who we were together.

About 30% of what I write is liturgical music. It’s a natural thing for me. I’m Catholic. That’s how I pray.

I took part in a national youth conference in Atlanta recently. On Saturday night, the young people there had three choices for their activity: a dance, a concert and Eucharistic adoration. Nine thousand kids chose Eucharistic adoration. More young people chose that one option than any other single option that night.

The sacramental Church is really speaking to this generation. There can be the attitude among some ministers that “this is old school.” That’s not true. These young people are looking for healing and reconciliation. They’re looking for a God who’s real.

One of my recent songs is called “Immanuel.” The basic message is, “Man, God rocks. Can you believe he could come down to us every Sunday?”

You know that Bette Midler song “From a Distance,” about God watching us from up in heaven? I hate that song. We have a God who loves us so much that he couldn’t just watch us from heaven. He’s not at a distance. He’s with us. He’s one of us.

Barry Michaels writes from
North Syracuse, New York.