Part 1of 2 — in the second story of a series on Worshipping Arts
Understanding where you come from is important to understanding where you are going. The man known around New Iberia as a historian and worship leader didn’t get there by accident. It was intentional, and it was his calling. John Reedom is the worship director at St. Edwards Catholic Church. He can tell you the history of the church, the community and the music back to the early 1900s when the church was built.
“We started in 1917. At that time the priest and the nuns did the music. Basically it was liturgically correct for that time,” Reedom said. “Then, 1917 happened. The (blacks) were all in St. Peter’s and the musicians came here (including) Gus Fontenette. He was one of the founders of The Banner Band, a barber by trade. In (that band was) a Reedom, Ed Reedom, my cousin.”
The history Reedom shares touches on the well-known jazz musician, Bunk Johnson, also a member of The Banner Band who attended St. Edward and is celebrated each May with a special Mass and processional to his resting place next door at the St. Edward Cemetery. What is usually missing from Reedom’s story is how to this day, he can hardly speak about his experience singing in a choir of 65 nations at the Vatican in 2003.
In his telling of the church’s music history, he can recall those who framed the program at the church and the school. His own legacy is throughout the land. Matthew 12:35 says, “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him,” as is the case of Reedom.
Joseph Stephen Rochelle, Andre Rochelle, Jeremy Rochelle and Michael Lewis, like Reedom, grew up in the St. Edward Church music program. Steven Rochelle is the choir director at our Lady of the Rosary in Jeanerette, André Rochelle is a member of the Bunk Johnson Brazz Band and Jeremy Rochelle plays for various churches in the Baton Rouge area. Lewis is a choir director at Saint Jude in Olivier, a mission to Saint Edward. They are just a few of the fruit from Reedom’s program.
A marketing professional that has been a singer most of his life, Barry Drexler said recently, when he needed someone to play for him, he thought of John Reedom.
“Ever since I was a kid I’ve looked up to him,” Drexler said. “When I was coming up, John was involved with all of that. I got to know him as one of the better musicians in the area. There aren’t too many left.”
An answer from Reedom about his wife gives insight into the man and the people coming in and out of his life. “We’re companions on a journey, every day I get a deeper understanding of what that is,” Reedom said. His roots have humble beginnings.
“I grew up in a family of 12 and my mother and father could not afford to pay for music lessons for me. I struggled to figure out where and when I could learn to play music,” Reedom said. “A woman down the street, Collie Henderson, all of the kids would go to her for music lessons. Whatever they learned, how to count, how to read music, they would come back, we’d go to their houses and we would play. At Stagg music on Main Street I bought a cardboard keyboard and I would practice. Then when I would get to a piano, I’d play.”
He plays “a few instruments,” he just learned the piano first, and singing. The teachers back then would have a pitch pipe to start a song and the children would learn to sight sing based on the key she started them in.
“We could actually take a piece of music and draw it on the chalkboard and sing without the instruments because once we got the pitch we knew how to find the intervals,” Reedom said. “There was one person that stood out — Sister Albertine. She was here 40 years. A lot of music was impacted by her presence. She was known for going out and visiting people.”
In the 1970s she went into the community and invited former members back to assemble the Angelic Choir, a collection of all the kids Sister Albertine had touched all those years prior.
“What I’m reminded, is that the first choir was the heavenly choir. It was Lucifer, who was the most beautiful before he got caught up in this mess (ego),” Reedom said.
Reedom holds dear a letter received from a cantor in Mississippi that experienced the Angelic Choir singing in a manner that brought tears to two priests standing outside the sanctuary. In it, Alison Keller said, “Never before have I had a collective consciousness speak with such maturity ... I have known other voices where ego called them into competition with the cantor, where their actions betrayed their offering of a wonderful gift from God, but as they act through vanity, their voices though beautiful miss the sublime because their intent was wrong. With your choir, the humility ... the joy of music and God caused this occasion to be an overwhelming event.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Part two of Reedom’s story, about his understanding of music after singing at the Vatican, will be published next week.