By Alice Williams
It’s that time again and, as usual, Oscar Pratt, choir director at Transfiguration Catholic Church, is deeply absorbed in planning its annual fundraiser Christmas concert, so much to the point that he declares this one will be more moving and exciting than the previous ones.
“Our concerts are presented to inspire and arouse the Holy Spirit within us, and to bring out love and emotion for God and our Savior Jesus Christ. If our music gives entertainment, it must be considered a by-product of a service well intended,” he says.
Set for Sunday, December 19, 2010 at 6:30 p.m. at the church, 2515 W. Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd, Los Angeles, the concert’s headliner theme is, “Baby Jesus, A Living Sacrifice I Offer You: Use Me.” Each Sunday at the 10 a.m. Mass, the church is filled with eager parishioners who thoroughly enjoy the choir’s singing accompanied by a three-piece musical combo.
The popular choir was once a “run of the mill” singing group until Pratt, in late 1960, transformed it into a gospel choir that immediately gained prominence in the world of religious music. He stated he coordinates his musical arrangements to meet the needs of the priest and the spoken words of the Mass. Various songs are matched with the “Homily” part or message of the Mass for each particular Sunday.
“I strongly feel that parishioners must be moved by the message and the singing of the service, and allowed to express their feelings and emotions outwardly. Shout, if it moves you. When I first converted the choir to gospel singing with rhythmic tones and movements, I was severely criticized by officials and parishioners alike. But after a little while, I started receiving compliments saying that when they left Mass after listening to our choir, they felt uplifted and joyous in their outlook on life. I attribute this to the African American “jazz” type renditions which were meant to stir the soul,” Pratt said.
Over the years, The Church of the Transfiguration – – which recently celebrated its 85th Year Anniversary – – choir has enjoyed prominence of its own having made several hit recordings and CDs in the field of gospel music which included “Songs to Him in the Key of Blue.” These recordings were spiritual, but integrated with the flavor of jazz. According to Pratt, Catholics should “make a joyous noise unto the Lord, and if the Holy Spirit speaks to you, let your voice be heard. If it moves you, get up and move.”
As a member of a devout Catholic family Pratt – – who was also principal of the church’s school from which he recently retired – – said he enrolled his son, Oscar, Jr., in the choir at a young age after realizing he had a natural affinity for music. As a result Oscar Pratt, Jr. went to Boston, Mass. where he attended the New England Conservatory of Music and received a Master’s Degree. Although he went to study for the Opera, he became a Catholic Priest and presently serves in Boston.
Born and partially educated in Louisiana where he received a B.A. degree in Music Education, Pratt, Sr. also earned a Master’s Degree in Elementary Education from California State University at Los Angeles. In 1965, he left St. Brigid Catholic Church as choir director to join Transfiguration Church as choir director. He has also been the recipient of several awards and honors including the prestigious Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Papal award from the Archdiocese culminating many years of faithful service.
Pratt’s outlook on today’s youth in this modern society borders on uncertainty given the many temptations they face daily. He feels the church should become more active in community affairs regarding young people and their concerns. “The choir is an excellent way to get them started in the right direction. We should get out of our ‘comfort zone’ and get involved,” he concluded.
Refreshments will be served in the Parish Hall after the concert. Additional information regarding the event can be received by calling (323) 291-1136.