A few days ago I was trolling through the religion pages of the online version of the Houston Chronicle and I came across a story about the Roman Catholic clergy singing sensation known to their fans as the Priests. Written by John Jurgensen. the story originated at the Wall Street Journal.
I was very curious about how the WSJ, a mainstream newspaper known for its business news but with a strong track record in other arenas, would cover a story (the release of an album [sic] by the trio) that blends business and religion.
Would this reporter explore the faith roots of the three Irish Fathers, or treat the "singing clergy" story as predominantly a marketing "novelty" item?
The lede gives a tantalizing suggestion that the writer wants to tell the story from both points of view:
As priests, they're Catholic clergymen serving parishes in Northern Ireland. As the Priests, they're a singing trio that a major music company is promoting in dozens of countries.
But then we get right down to business.
The Rev. Eugene O'Hagan, his brother the Rev. Martin O'Hagan, and the Rev. David Delargy, a boyhood friend, signed a record contract with Sony BMG last spring. Since then, they've been navigating an unusual path between piety and pop culture. With the help of Radiohead's string arranger and a producer who's worked with U2, the group recorded an album of hymns sung in close harmony and a traditional liturgical style. In an unusually large launch for an unknown act, an album titled The Priests will be released this month by various Sony labels in more than 30 countries, including the United States on Tuesday.
The album comes with a novel back story (working priests who perform in their clerical collars) and a selection of sacred but accessible hits (Ave Maria, Pie Jesu) that Sony thinks can attract broader attention than even most pop projects.
Jurgensen examines how a big record company markets these "sacred but accessible hits," even hiring a religious consultant who also works for the Archdiocese of New York "to help target its marketing."
The "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" relationships between business interests like Sony and religious media (remember the movie "Fireproof?) don't get covered enough. Jurgensen does a good job of airing some of the strategies consumers might not consider when they buy an album or watch a movie.
Near the article's end, Jurgensen does give singing priest Eugene O'Hagan an opportunity to explain what motivates the trio -- two sentences. "In the very delicate ecumenical world that is Northern Ireland, music has been a wonderful means of communication," he says. "We see the album as a continuation of what we've always been doing."
Why? How? The faith of our Fathers gets submerged here, if not buried.
For an irreverent, cheeky perspective that cannily balances the angles of commerce, faith and human interest, see the Telegraph article by Olga Craig.
You may end up both better-informed about the faith foundations of the white-collared 'boy band' -- and a little more cheerful about human nature!
Picture from Wikimedia Commons