Oct. 16-22, 2003
Singing His Praise
By Blessed Sacrament staff/ SUN contributing writers
Christian music group from Our Lady of Sorrows releases new CD
VESTAL —- Unlike the music chart climbers of today, Maria Blvd, a contemporary folk ensemble from Our Lady of Sorrows Church, is not looking for the next top hit –– although that would be nice. What the group is trying to accomplish with the release of its debut CD, “On the Way,” is much simpler. “We are trying to promote a positive, upbeat message doing something we love,” said member Tom Federowicz.
Maria Blvd’s eclectic sound and uplifting Gospel message have made the five-member group a hit with parishioners at Our Lady of Sorrows Church, where they have been performing at Masses, weddings and other special events for the past 10 years. With the release of its CD the group hopes to share its music with a larger audience. A chain of events brought together the group now known as Maria Blvd. The basic sound began with members Federowicz (guitar, keyboard, vocals) and Carol Stasko (flute, vocals) as teenagers. The two dabbled in songwriting and rehearsed church hymns, said Stasko. Favorite songs from this time remain in the group’s repertoire today.
Over time, the duo grew with the addition of Adrian Butter (violin, vocals), Robert Pittman (electric bass guitar) and John Ruspantini (guitar, vocals) who similarly share a passion for Christian music.
While each member is talented enough to perform solo, the group agrees that when they come together they shine. “When one of us is missing, it is like soup that is missing salt,” said Ruspantini. “It’s still a pretty good soup, but something just isn’t right.” Maria Blvd performs every other Saturday evening at Our Lady of Sorrows Church with the support of its pastor Father John Putano.
According to the group, this encouraging response from Father Putano and the parishioners of Our Lady of Sorrows Church, along with the support their families, was the impetus behind the CD. To cut costs, the group recorded the CD in a room in Ruspantini’s house on Maria Blvd in Binghamton. The tiny room, far from a professional recording studio, forced the group to improvise during the nine months of recording sessions. A multicolored “shag carpet” was put over the hardwood floor and egg cartons were stuck on the walls to deaden the sound. Also, the windows of the room had to be closed during the sessions to keep out honking horns and other unwanted sounds. “It was hot in the summer and cold in the winter,” joked Pittman. It is no coincidence this spot is where the name Maria Blvd blossomed. “It just seemed to fit,” remarked Ruspantini, who plans in the future to start a Catholic record label. The final copy, which features 15 tracks, six of which are the group’s original compositions, was completed in December 2002.
“On the Way,” a reference to life as a spiritual journey, appropriately features tunes for all of life’s ups and downs. The CD is a refreshing change in a pop culture dominated by music that promotes violence and exploits sexuality. “Sing with me Sing,” is an upbeat “doo-woppy” song, while “Only in God” is perfect for those moments of relaxation and meditation.
Listeners might recognize some songs, such as “Ave Maria” and “You are Mine” from Mass. Though they are familiar songs, the group added their own distinctive sound to them. “We take it and turn it into our music,” said Butter. Other songs are original Maria Blvd tunes. The song “Sometimes,” written by Stasko, is particularly moving. It was written as a tribute to a girlfriend who died of cancer at the age of 38. The theme of the song, explained Stasko, is that Jesus is always near. “People can relate to this song,” Stasko said. “Life is not always smooth.” Also featured on several CD tracks is Father Lawrence Mbogo, a priest from Kenya who was assigned to Our Lady of Sorrows Church for the past six years. Father Mbogo often sat in with the group playing his kayamba, an African percussion instrument made of bamboo and seeds that is captured on the CD.
The members of Maria Blvd all have full time jobs and families –– other commitments that demand their time and energy. Yet they devoutly find the time to break away for rehearsal and to share their talents and uplifting message of faith with others. Their love for God and willingness to serve Him with the talents and abilities they possess is a form of stewardship, said Pittman. “It is not someone else’s church. It belongs to us,” he said. “We are just doing what we can to contribute our talents.” To obtain a copy of “On the Way,” contact Our Lady of Sorrow Church at (607) 748-8287, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Copies are also available at Arrowhead Christian Book & Gift Store in Johnson City and Barnes & Noble in Vestal.