Today is officially Pope Mania day in Washington, DC. Pope Benedict is stateside for a few days and will be giving a mass at Nationals Ballfield this morning at 10:30am before moving on to NYC. People have come in from all over the country and the world to attend, as was fairly evident on my very crowded morning commute.

The most delightful story coming out of Pope Mania is the involvement of a local acapella ensemble, the Suspicious Cheese Lords. I came to know the Cheese Lords when a friend and I were looking for something interesting to do one evening and saw an announcement for a free concert at a church. We really had no idea what they were, but how could a person in their right mind turn down the opportunity to see a group called the Suspicious Cheese Lords?

Turns out, they are an all-male acapella group that specializes in “sacred renaissance polyphony.” As the hauntingly beautiful vocal harmonies echoed around the chapel of the Franciscan Monastery, we knew we had discovered one of Washington’s jewels.

Fast forward to yesterday, when I received an announcement on the Cheese Lords’ mailing list, that they had been selected to perform at this morning’s papal mass. There was just one small catch: the name.

“Despite having performed at such venues as the Kennedy Center, the National Gallery of Art, and the Smithsonian Institution,” says a press release entitled Too Cheesey for the Pope?, “their name still seems to make some folks a little uncomfortable: they’re listed in the official program for the April 17 event as ‘Sacred Music Ensemble’, with their real name discreetly tucked away in the acknowledgements on a back page.”

To my knowledge, silly humor is not against Catholicism, but perhaps some people think that such a name lacks the appropriate gravitas to be appearing in such close proximity to the Pope’s.

“Dr. Hugh Dempsey, Deputy Director of the [Pope John Paul II] Cultural Center, is a fan of the group. It didn’t hurt that the group has presented several concerts at the Center, and that one of its members, George P. Cervantes, works there. However, this did not guarantee that the Lords would be asked to perform. Dr. Dempsey had to convince the staff at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the primary organizers of the event, that having a group called the Cheese Lords sing at such an historic and dignified event wouldn’t be such a crazy idea.”

I know the Pope and assembled guests will be thrilled to have the Cheese– er, ‘Sacred Music Ensemble’ performing for them, and as a local fan, I hope it serves as a springboard for more national and international recognition for this talented group.
 

P.S., You’re probably wondering how such an unserious name came to a group of such serious musicians:

“The Suspicious Cheese Lords’ unconventional name is derived from the title of a [Thomas] Tallis motet, Suscipe quaeso Domine. In a playful translation of the title, it was observed that Suscipe could mean “suspicious,” quaeso resembles the Spanish word queso meaning ‘cheese,’ and Domine is, of course, ‘Lord.’ Hence, the title of the motet was clearly ‘Suspicious Cheese Lord’ – which in time became adopted as the group’s name. ‘I hated the name,’ says West. ‘And the guys loved it.’ And to this day, thanks to Skip’s cooking skills, the Cheese Lords continue to have dinner together before their weekly rehearsals.”

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