Bringing the message to the music

Danette Dooley
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Newfoundland-raised Matt Maher puts his faith where his song is

It's difficult to fathom how you'd feel if, not long after celebrating your 19th birthday, you were told you needed to be tested for HIV.

Matt Maher knows all too well the feeling of fear that comes with such a statement.

The news came at an already difficult time for the family, he says.

Maher's parents, Michael and Melanie, were about to close the door on their marriage.

Matt Maher is coming back to Newfoundland to play at Canada's largest youth conference in Gander. YC 2008 starts Friday and runs until Sunday. -Submitted photo

It's difficult to fathom how you'd feel if, not long after celebrating your 19th birthday, you were told you needed to be tested for HIV.

Matt Maher knows all too well the feeling of fear that comes with such a statement.

The news came at an already difficult time for the family, he says.

Maher's parents, Michael and Melanie, were about to close the door on their marriage.

"I'm a hemophiliac and I got infected with hepatitis C through the (Canadian) Red Cross. And right before I moved, my doctor called me in and told me I had to be tested for HIV. When you're 20 years old and someone tells you you're going to get tested for AIDS, it's a bit of a shock," Maher says.

Tests revealed Maher had not contracted the virus that causes AIDS.

However, the shock of knowing it was a possibility left him questioning the direction his life was taking.

"I felt like I needed a fresh start and that's why I moved with my mom," he says of relocating from St. John's to Phoenix, Ariz. in 1995.

Although he has been living in the U.S. for 13 years, the 33-year-old has fond memories of growing up in St. John's.

As a boy he'd often spend time at his father's piano bar The Osprey.

The club was located on Duckworth Street in the building now home to the Duke of Duckworth.

"I used to go down there on Saturday mornings while Dad would do paper work and I'd play video games. When he sold the bar, my Mom and Dad took the piano home," Maher says.

By the time Maher attended junior high school at Pius X, he'd developed a passion for music.

"I played in the concert band and the jazz band and I sang in the choir. Then, we started a rock band and we would jam during lunch hour when I was in the seventh grade," Maher laughs.

During his high school years at Gonzaga, Maher and his buddies often entered battle of the bands competitions.

"We'd end up playing at the Peace Accord and a lot of times, as seniors in high school, we were playing down at the Cornerstone and we had to get notes from our parents so they'd let us in."

Once old enough to frequent clubs without his parents' permission, Maher often spent his weekends going to see local bands.

"I was very heavily influenced by them. It wasn't about making money, it just helped me see that music has always meant something to the culture of Newfoundland. And it helped me see how prominent a role music plays in people's lives and this encouraged me to do the same."

Maher's original intention when he moved to Arizona was to study film scoring.

However, his life took another turn when he began attending a Catholic church with some relatives.

Going to church was something he'd stopped doing in high school.

"I say I'm a CEO, that's Christmas and Easter Only. But my cousin invited me to go with her and the music just blew my mind. It was contemporary. There were young people there and whole families. Everyone was paying attention and I could tell it meant something to everybody. They weren't just going through the motions."

Maher went on to earn a music degree at Arizona State University, still uncertain of where his future would take him.

"I thought then, 'Well, I'm a guy, am I supposed to be a priest?' But I knew I wasn't called for that. So I ended up taking a full-time position at a church (St. Timothy Catholic Community in Mesa, Ariz.) where they had two other full-time musicians and then all of a sudden I found an alternative that I'd never thought of before."

Singer/songwriter/worship leader, Maher now travels throughout North America and into other areas sharing his music ministry with millions of people.

"I had been raised believing in God, but music was my religion in a way," he says.

His song "The Litany of the Saints" was used at World Youth Day in Toronto in 2002 where Pope John Paul II spoke to the audience of over 400,000 at the Catholic Youth Festival.

He was also part of the Papal rally in New York City in April alongside Third Day, tobyMac and Kelly Clarkson and subsequently had the opportunity to perform his song "Empty and Beautiful" on FOX National News.

"Empty and Beautiful" is also the title of Maher's recently released album under the label Essential Records, a division of Sony BMG.

Maher wrote or co-wrote all songs on the album.

Another highlight of his music ministry was performing with his band for more than 500,000 people at World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney, Australia. The occasion marked Pope Benedict XVI's first visit to Australia.

Maher will perform for the first time in St. John's on Wednesday at a concert at Mary Queen of Peace church on Torbay Road. The concert gets underway at 8 p.m. Tickets are available at the door at a cost of $10 for adults and $5 for students and seniors. Those attending are also asked to bring a non-perishable food item.

He'll then head to Gander to perform at Canada's largest youth conference. YC 2008 runs from Friday to Sunday.

Maher says he's looking forward to returning to his home province as this will be his first time back in four years.

"This is the first time I'll be home doing what it is I do and not for a vacation. It's a little bit of a nervous thing for me in a way and an exciting thing at the same time," he says.

danette@nl.rogers.com

Organizations: Red Cross, Catholic church, Arizona State University FOX National News Division of Sony BMG Peace church

Geographic location: Newfoundland, St. John's, Duckworth Street Phoenix, Ariz. U.S. Australia Mesa, Ariz. North America Toronto New York City Sydney Torbay Road Gander Canada

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Recent comments

  • Nancy
    July 02, 2010 - 13:27

    If you haven't already, check out Matt's tunes on his website or at itunes. You won't want to miss his show at MQP. Congratulations to Matt on all his musical successes! (Anyone else out there remember The Scrubbers?)

  • Mary
    July 02, 2010 - 13:21

    Don't worry about HIV and AIDS. It is just a scam. Ask any doctor or lawyer who has seen the disclaimers on the test. They will tell you.

  • Vickie
    July 02, 2010 - 13:20

    Remember The Scrubbers? Are you kidding???

    Can you feel the raiiinnnnn.....that falls from this lonely sky..........CCCAAANNNN you feel the pain........

    Scrubbers shows were one of the many highlights of my years at Gonzaga.

    GO VIKINGS!

    Good to see you doing so well Matthew!!!!!

  • Nancy
    July 01, 2010 - 20:14

    If you haven't already, check out Matt's tunes on his website or at itunes. You won't want to miss his show at MQP. Congratulations to Matt on all his musical successes! (Anyone else out there remember The Scrubbers?)

  • Mary
    July 01, 2010 - 20:04

    Don't worry about HIV and AIDS. It is just a scam. Ask any doctor or lawyer who has seen the disclaimers on the test. They will tell you.

  • Vickie
    July 01, 2010 - 20:02

    Remember The Scrubbers? Are you kidding???

    Can you feel the raiiinnnnn.....that falls from this lonely sky..........CCCAAANNNN you feel the pain........

    Scrubbers shows were one of the many highlights of my years at Gonzaga.

    GO VIKINGS!

    Good to see you doing so well Matthew!!!!!