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Coliseum Trip: The Trial Before The Tribulation

September 17, 1987|CHRIS PASLES | Times Staff Writer

You began to get nervous when traffic came to a dead halt Tuesday a mile before the Harbor Freeway exit for the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

At 2:30 p.m., hundreds of cars and school buses were lined up on the way to get into the pre-Papal Mass concert--officially dubbed a "Celebration of Joy."

True, the concert was scheduled to start about two hours later. But nothing was moving. At all.

Well, a few foolhardy motorists were trying to bypass all that stopped traffic and cut in closer to the exit. They received anything but a papal benediction.

Eventually, you got to the Figueroa intersection where it seemed that the traffic cops forgot all about you. They kept waving on every other line while you sat there contemplating the increasingly attractive offers from enterprising local residents to park nearby for $5. (A true example of supply-and-demand economics, the price would rise to $20 the closer you got to the Coliseum.)

Still, as a member of the pampered press, you knew you would get to park next to the adjacent Sports Arena, where you would pick up the next level security pass.

If you ever got there.

(Even the musicians had to pay to park, you'd find out later, though they eventually would be reimbursed.)

Inside the Sports Arena, dozens of white-robed priests were getting ready to make their entrance into the Coliseum. Discarded Styrofoam hamburger containers littered makeshift tables. Obviously, no one was living high on the hog.

Inside the Coliseum, the temperature hovered at 80 degrees. Upwards of 100,000 people were crowding in. Grade school children dressed in various national costumes were seated in one area. Some high schools had cheerleading sections and banners spread out with welcoming messages.

Loudspeakers the size of tall midgets were placed approximately every 40 feet around the inside perimeter of the track. Down on a grassy area sat the Pacific Symphony and conductor Keith Clark, waiting for the sign to begin the concert.

A glance at the program raised some nagging questions, however.

First on the program was the Overture to Leonard Bernstein's Broadway musical "Candide," which everyone knows was based on Voltaire's satirical novel.

Didn't Voltaire, that singular embodiment of the Enlightenment, lash out against established religions? Didn't "Candide" contain some savage satire on the Catholic church? And didn't the church respond by refusing to allow his body to be buried in consecrated ground?

No matter.

Onto the overture to Handel's "Music for the Royal Fireworks," composed to accommodate the martial tastes of that good Protestant King George II . . . Oh, well, Beethoven was a good Catholic, and the chorus "Joyful, Joyful," adapted from the "Ode to Joy" in his Ninth Symphony, surely is a plea for universal brotherhood.

So what if the approximately 120 voices in the Master Chorale of Orange County could be discerned only as a mighty hum and not much else? Or if the arrangement was a Gargantuan maladaptation of Beethoven's lofty hymn?

Conductor Clark waved big beats in the air, the instrumentalists looked like they were working very hard, and about all that could be heard were occasional waves of string sound, punctuated with rhythmic burps from brass and drums.

People were still arriving, talking and trying to find their seats. A helicopter overhead contributed its own unwanted obbligato.

End of music. Wild Applause.

But then, even the line of Los Angeles Police Department officers taking positions on the playing field got a big ovation, too.

Volume was turned up for Christian pop singer Sandi Patti, whose own conductor, David Clydesdale led the Pacific Symphony while dozens of high school cheerleader-dancers waved banners in the aisles and on the stage/altar.

Patti sang two treacly religious selections, incidentally answering affirmatively the nagging question of whether a woman has a falsetto voice. She does.

Patti soared into the stratosphere for the closing verse of "Upon This Rock." Unfortunately, either she didn't have the climactic high note or it vanished into the vast expanses of the sports theater.

At least, it couldn't be heard from a seat in Section 32, Row 29, up behind the orchestra.

Next up, and halfway through the program, was lay Franciscan brother John Michael Talbot, dressed in a monk's habit and carrying a guitar. Talbot, who sang two religious selections, also had his own conductor, Phil Perkins.

Once again, pop music triumphed over the loudspeakers, and with the prospect of the sound system turning Handel's mighty "Hallelujah!" chorus into mush and also having to hear a repeat of "Joyful, Joyful" (led this time by Master Chorale conductor Maurice Allard), one--and probably only one--listener fled the Coliseum.

On to the freeway. No traffic jam. Bliss.

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