If drum circles do indeed refer to an informal gathering of musicians “jamming,” then the St. Cecilia Circle was aptly named.
Far beyond the circle’s honoring of the Church’s patron saint of music, St. Cecilia Circle, like its drum circle counterparts, can easily be identified as “countercultural.” Its repertoire is as broad as it comes — classical, bluegrass, pop, Gospel, blues, originals, covers — but St. Cecilia Circle musicians and every guest artist must abide by one rule: don’t play anything with lyrics that contradict the Catholic faith.
That especially means avoiding songs whose lyrics might go for the snicker or the blush among audiences. Some songs got deleted from the collection at the onset, but there were thousands they could agree with, said Doug Barnett, St. Cecilia Circle’s sound engineer, guitarist, singer and songwriter. He has about 300 songs he could play from memory.
That means audiences can attend multiple shows without hearing a repeat, save for one. St. Cecilia Circle’s theme song, “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” is a staple at each show.
Any musician there at the time is welcome to join in. Doug takes the vocal lead for that one. Wife Barbara Rayes-Barnett occasionally does vocals, but audiences are most likely to see her with a flute or guitar. The two have been musicians since the ‘70s.
The St. Jerome parishioners formed St. Cecilia Circle in July 2017 after praying for a way to get parish musicians and Catholic musicians not part of a music ministry — about half of their artists — in front of bigger audiences. Two affiliated with area parishes happened to be booked for the same variety show the couple coordinates through their company, Barnett Productions.
“They want joy. They want love. These things come from God. They’re the fruits of the Holy Spirit as entertainers,” Rayes-Barnett explained of the St. Cecilia Circle audience, which has ranged from 40 to 200.
The Circle now tries to have about four shows per year with breaks for Advent and Lent. Performances are at restaurants with family-friendly patios — largely Desert Rose Steakhouse in Glendale with North Mountain Brewing Company getting into the mix. The musicians quickly found a way to not just learn from one another, but to give back, too.
St. Cecilia Circle
All-ages concert within a family-friendly restaurant with 10 percent of sales and 100 percent of musician tips benefiting a Catholic or pro-life cause.
“St. Cecilia Circle is always a social event featuring Catholic entertainers benefiting a Catholic or pro-life cause. Our favorite cause is the pro-life cause. I even shake trying to say what abortion is,” Rayes-Barnett said.
Variety show headliners choose the beneficiary — 100 percent of the tip jar and a percentage of restaurant sales. They overwhelmingly choose the pro-life cause. Places like Life Choices Women’s Clinics, Lotus Loft Maternity Housing and the St. Monica Pro-Life Ministry at St. Augustine Parish have benefited in the past.
“We want to bring back a culture of beauty through family-friendly entertainment,” Rayes-Barnett said.
Each variety show attracts 15-25 performers playing their top two or three songs. Some are seasoned musicians with regular gigs. Others only play at home. Lieu of You made their performance debut at a St. Cecilia Circle variety show in October after meeting in a school jazz band. Musicians tend to represent eight to 12 parishes per show and can play solo or invite the St. Cecilia House Band to play with them.
“Part of it is community and part of it is as a musician, there is a certain joy you get making music with other people,” Doug Barnett said. “The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”
St. Cecilia Circle House Band
Doug Barnett (guitar, vocals)
Barbara Barnett (flute, guitar, vocals)
Jim Whitaker (piano, bass, vocals)
Magdalena Strahota (violin)
Rene Casasnovas (percussion)
Tom Lynch (percussion)
Stephen Strahota (percussion)
New percussionists are welcome
Jeff La Benz, a parishioner at St. Mary in Chandler, can relate. He brought his ukulele to the St. Cecilia Circle last month playing anything from John Denver to the Beatles to “You’ve Got a Friend in Me.”
“Even though I’m one little instrument at home, I can come here and it’s like a big band,” La Benz said.
“It’s a chance for a person who doesn’t always get a gig to play in front of a real audience and have them clap at the end,” La Benz continued.
Though the musician lineup changes frequently, most house band members are regulars.
“It’s really the gift of the spirit that unites us and forms us into a community. We’re being formed and reformed and conformed to His will,” said Jim Whitaker, St. Cecilia Circle pianist, bassist and vocalist, plus longtime parish musician.
That will seems to be producing solid music and fostering a family-friendly atmosphere. Results move beyond friendships too with some audience members returning to church or learning more about the faith.
“Even here in this restaurant, I know of two people who went back to church,” Rayes-Barnett told The Catholic Sun during a variety show at Desert Rose Steakhouse last month.
Perhaps the next show can literally save a life. It will be a Valentine’s Day celebration Feb. 10 benefiting Lotus Loft Maternity Housing.
2-5 p.m. Feb. 10, 2019
McHugh Hall, Most Holy Trinity, 8620 N. 7th St.