A small spark, a little kindling, some oxygen and the result is a crackling, roaring fire. Mesmerized by the flames, John Angotti spends most of his days as a fire starter which is not necessarily a bad thing, considering the international Catholic musician, singer and composer spends his days firing up souls and hearts for Jesus through his unique style of music.
On May 1, the 47-year-old Memphis, Tenn., artist brings his combination of old, traditional hymns with new rhythms to St. Anne Catholic Church in Pleasant Prairie. Utilizing Latin and jazz with pop rock, Angotti’s style is often compared to that of Elton John and Billy Joel, but with spiritual and meditative lyrics.
“I want to awaken their faith, start their fire and then get them thinking about becoming involved in ministry,” he said. “My performance might make people feel good, but I want them to create feel-good moments afterwards that only come when feeding the poor and volunteering with youth groups, missions, and sharing time, talent and treasures.”
Angotti has written and played church music since he was a little boy, growing up in Clarksburg, W. V., the third in line of four adopted children. His father was a coal miner and his mom was a musician in the Catholic church in a community with strong Italian ancestry.
At 4, he sang the hymn, “The Church’s One Foundation,” and at 7, learned to play the piano. His mother encouraged him to become involved with church music at an early age through the children’s choir at church.
“I believe it was there at that age where I truly began to form my beliefs about God through the songs we were singing,” Angotti said. “I was playing in rock bands and writing songs as a teenager at St. Joseph’s High School Seminary. I was always the kid who raised my hand in band to play whatever instrument they needed.”
During high school and his first year in college, Angotti considered the priesthood, but decided it wasn’t for him.
“I went ahead and earned a degree in marketing from West Virginia University, and a degree in piano and voice from the Navy School of Music as well,” he said. “I am also currently working on a master’s in pastoral theological studies at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.”
Angotti played the piano and sang at Mass, describing it as an art form that burned deep within his soul.
|If you want to go
Sunday, May 1, 6:30 p.m.
St. Anne Catholic Church
9091 Prairie Ridge Blvd.
Pleasant Prairie, WI 53158
5 and under are free.
“You can’t just write a song,” he said. “It happens – so through my life’s experiences and playing at church, I began writing songs about my faith and started playing some of them at Mass and different events.”
After he wrote several songs, his then girlfriend Tracy, now his wife of 16 years, suggested he record his songs so others would be able to enjoy them.
“I put them on tape and sent them to Catholic publishers, and was so fortunate that World Library Publishing from Chicago bought 100 from me on a distribution deal,” Angotti said. “It snowballed and transpired into what I do now.”
That was in 1995, and while working with WLP, he met Dominican Fr. Jim Marchionda, also a composer with the company. Fr. Marchionda invited Angotti to participate in Christian workshops at the Los Angeles Religious Education Conference.
“Things really began to spiral for me then,” he said. “I played in a rock and roll band on the weekends, had a regular job and a new baby and then a job opened up for me to be a full-time music director. I discerned about it because it was a huge pay cut, I had the new baby – but when you think back, you see these life changing moments, and this was one of them. It all led to having an opportunity to study liturgy further and take a look at what minister was like. I fell into it – I didn’t write it, it wrote me.”
Since 1995, he has promoted his albums, played concerts, led parish workshops and worked with the youth. His goal is to re-energize services with music and other elements, and so far, most churches have been receptive to his musical style.
|John Angotti is available for concerts, workshops, youth minister conferences, and confirmation and youth retreats.
He has released 10 albums, all available at his concerts or through iTunes or www.wlpmusic.com.
More information can be found on his website: www.johnangotti.com.
“There is a lot of hunger in our church and a whole misunderstanding of faith and being Catholic and what going to church means,” said Angotti. “It isn’t punching a Mass card, but actively participating and making a conscious effort to know what is going on – what Mass means. What God is trying to do through me is to wake people up and take a look at what it means to be Catholic.”
When people criticize the Catholic Church, Angotti reminds them that the institution of the Catholic Church is not the whole church, but the human aspect of the church.
“We get caught up in the rules and regulations and forget the doctrines and the source,” he said, adding, “And if we forget the source, we are just going through the motion. We bow before and adore the Eucharist and treat each other like garbage. To adore the Eucharist and not see Christ in one another is missing the connection. That is what I do. I am the bridge builder. Because I am building the bridge between the human story and the divine story and all of that meets in the Eucharist. The human meets the divine and the ritual is that we go through that makes things connect. If no one understands the rituals, then it is just punching the Mass card.”
On the surface, the entertainment lifestyle seems elegant and exciting, but it often can be lonely and much of the time Angotti misses Tracy and his two children, Dominica, 14, and Tre, 9. While he evangelizes through his music, Tracy attends the ball games and other activities, and sometimes he questions whether he is doing the right thing.
“It is at those times, when I am really homesick, that someone comes around,” he said. “Just today I got an email from someone who said they had a bad day yesterday and I helped to make it better. Those moments keep me going forward.”
When he comes to St. Anne Parish, Angotti will reunite with Les Stahl, music director, and parishioner Anna Nuzzo.
“I have worked with Les many times, he has worked with me in producing and performing and is a wonderful person,” said Angotti. “And Anna recently sang with me at Carnegie Hall – that was me taking the message to the streets. It was so exciting and we were so happy we could do that.”
Nuzzo, a cantor and wedding and funeral soloist met Angotti at a National Pastoral Musicians Conference in Indianapolis a few years ago, and kept in contact through Facebook. She sang back-up for him at a teachers conference in Indianapolis last October and then recently at Carnegie Hall.
“There were about 300 voices that made up his back-up choir,” she said. “It was truly an amazing experience. He only asked a few people to sing a solo there and I was one of them. I was very honored that he asked me, and I am thrilled that it went so well. We received a standing ovation at Carnegie Hall – it was definitely one of the highlights of my life.”