Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

John LeBlanc, left, and vocalist Leila Wathen share music notes during a Feb. 19 recording session in Peachtree City.Photos by Michael Alexander
John LeBlanc, left, and vocalist Leila Wathen share music notes during a Feb. 19 recording session in Peachtree City.

Peachtree City

Choir Steps Outside Its Zone To Help Haitian Kids

By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published April 25, 2013

PEACHTREE CITY—John LeBlanc’s hand cuts through the air, keeping the beat as Leila Wathen sings into the microphone.

Then she joins the group from the soundproofed room to listen to her recording. Some of her notes make the long-time singer shake her head with disappointment. She goes back into the recording room and tries again.

“This is how God’s work gets done on earth,” said
LeBlanc.

Choir members of St. Matthew Church, Tyrone, took a little more than 60 days to release a 15-song album called “Songs of Reflection.” It’s to raise money for a parish-supported orphanage called “Hope Village” in southern Haiti.

The fingers of Pat Phillips work the levers on the soundboard during a recording session at his home studio.

The fingers of Pat Phillips work the levers on the soundboard during a recording session at his home studio.

The small clinic that began in the late 1990s now shelters several hundred youngsters. Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world, where nearly half the population cannot read or write and the unemployment rate is close to 40 percent. All the proceeds from the sale of the album are to help the young people become self-sufficient and provide for school and medical needs.

“Music gives you a universal message to people. It doesn’t matter what language you speak, where you live, whatever faith you are. Music inspires people,” said Wathen, 43, a special education teacher in the Coweta County school system.

The effort was the dream of LeBlanc, 52, who sings tenor in the church choir. All of the performers had spent countless Sundays singing at parish Masses. But few had practiced for a recording where they’d sing the same lyrics again and again and again to get it right.

“You’re putting your voice to a recording so it’s a little bit different than singing in a choir. You are putting your voice out there. You want it to sound good,” said Wathen.

Working in a recording studio gave the group the chance to hear themselves.

“I cannot ever recall doing a professional record cut. It was the first time I ever witnessed it firsthand. You don’t know what you sound like. You hope you are making some decent sound. It was fun,” said drummer Phil Consolino.

The group faced a learning curve. Like the time they hauled a piano up a set of stairs and into the studio only to learn it didn’t work.

But Consolino said the long hours paid off in the end.

“It’s for the kids in Haiti, it’s what you do. It was fun being part of it. I heard it now and it’s fantastic,” he said.

He played the drums as a youngster, but set them aside. About 10 years ago, he was asked to play them again for the church choir and he was pulled out of early retirement.

“Where you can do something with your time and your talent, that’s a great opportunity to step up,” he said.

LeBlanc said he was impressed how people put their lives on hold, missing family soccer games or juggling work projects, to make the album happen.

St. Matthew Church parishioner Phil Consolino played drums during the CD recording session.

St. Matthew Church parishioner Phil Consolino played drums during the CD recording session.

Singers and musicians contributing to the effort were Todd Hamill, Marty Gautreau, A.J. Garner, Bryan Caldwell, Michael Fleich. It was recorded and mixed by Pat Phillips, of Graycat Sound, Peachtree City.

The album features songs by popular Christian artists. LeBlanc said its music would help someone going through a rough time or just be uplifting to any listener.

Wathen is featured on nearly all the songs, but two, “How Beautiful” and “Change My Heart,” are special.

“The words of each of them really spoke to me,” she said.

Singing isn’t just about hitting the right notes. There’s a bit of imagination at work, too. She considers the words and their message before she sings to add a bit of something special to her sound.

The album is selling for a $20 minimum. The group ordered a first printing of 900 CDs, in addition to up to 200 online albums. Since everyone donated their time, including Graycat Sound in Peachtree City, all the cash from the sales goes to Haiti.

“I hope I have to order a bunch more,” LeBlanc said.