An Interview with George Sarah
By Teresa Limjoco
He is a well-known film score musician, a former atheist who had a near-death experience and the head of the Una Voce chapter in Los Angeles. George Sarah recently sat down with Regina Magazine to discuss his conversion, his music and the growth of the Latin Mass in of all places, Hollywood!
What is your cultural and religious background?
I was born in Seoul, South Korea and moved to the United States at the age of five. My Mother is Korean and my Father is German by heritage though he was born in Kansas. He was an attorney who practiced Law in Japan. I did not have a lot of religion growing up. My family attended a protestant church now and then about three or four times a year but I really was not interested.
Before you became a Catholic at Easter 2006, what were your beliefs?
I was an Atheist. In 1995 I was in a very terrible car accident. My car was completely totaled and I was blessed to be alive let alone have any injuries. I truly felt there was divine intervention at that moment and I knew there was more. After that night, I started reading spiritual books and attending different religious services. I read books about near-death experiences as well as participated in Buddhist workshops but none of it felt complete.
Then I stumbled upon a book about Fatima in a New Age bookstore called ‘Lucia In Her Own Words” and it seemed so interesting that I bought it. I finished the book in a few days and I felt this undeniable connection to Mary, so I prayed to her.
There is a lot more to this story but I wanted to give an idea of how it happened. I want to add that most of my relatives including my Mother, Aunt and Uncle all have become practicing Catholics all on their own.
As a composer and musician, could you tell us about your musical background and influences?
I wrote my first song when I was 8, it’s an a cappella piece. My big break came in 1999 when I was asked to appear on the TV show ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’. Since then I’ve had my songs featured on numerous TV/Films including CSI, Chris Rock’s Everybody Hates Chris, HBO, and I have scored 28 episodes for the Discovery Network. I was commissioned to write a 14 minute piece to be performed at the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games. I’ve released 10 Albums and have written a new score for Carl Dreyer’s 1928 silent classic ‘The Passion Of Joan Of Arc’ which I have performed twice accompanied by members of the Los Angeles Master Chorale.
Some music I like to listen to includes Bach, Aphex Twin, Bjork, Baroque era (1600-1750), The Jam, Film scores from the 60’s and 70’s. Early Autechre, electronic music with melodies, Bowie, The Bad Plus, 20th Century concerto’s, sonatas and chamber. Satie, Gorecki, Part, Barber. 80’s Hip Hop. Anything released on 4ad, Mute, Factory records. There is a lot of great music coming out of L.A. at the moment especially bands like Warpaint. Film composers Clint Mansel, Philip Glass, Bernard Herman, John Barry.
How did you learn about the TLM?
My first TLM was in 2005 while I was still in RCIA. My friend Dr. Chris Curry and his late wife Jeannie invited me. At the time they were both teaching at Loyola Marymount University and they have been attending the TLM most of their adult life. I attribute my learning about the TLM as well as Catholic Church teachings to them.
What piqued your curiosity?
I was attending RCIA at the time and they encouraged everyone to go to different Masses at different churches. I don’t think they meant a TLM because the following week when I told the Sister who was in charge that I had attended a TLM, she scolded me. (Sorry but it’s a true story.)
What was your first experience of the Latin Mass like?
The first TLM I attended was celebrated at Santa Teresita Chapel in Duarte, California. The beauty, the reverence, it was like I was at a ‘Great Prayer’. There was a sense of seriousness to it all. Prior to that my Mass experience was at St. Monica’s in Santa Monica where there was liturgical dancing, protestant ministers giving the sermons and musicians performing in the Sanctuary.
I didn’t mind any of these things; I didn’t know any better since my first Catholic Mass ever in my life was in 2005.
Would you say the TLM has deepened your faith?
Yes. Learning the liturgy that goes back centuries, learning Latin which is still the official language of the Catholic Church, learning all this incredible music, some of which I was already familiar with but had no idea it was for the Mass by Mozart, Schubert, Vivaldi, and many others.
It’s helped me feel more detached from this world and has helped me with my Prayer life. I spend two hours in Prayer and Meditation everyday. I prefer the sermons at a TLM, and I learn more about the Doctors of the Church like Thomas Aquinas, and there is such a strong love for the Virgin Mary and for me that is so pivotal as she is responsible for me becoming Catholic.
Do you bring others to the TLM?
I usually go by myself however I have brought a few folks from the Russian Orthodox Church. They seem to love the TLM. I don’t think I can mention their names.
My secular friends have responded very positively. A dear friend of mine and a fallen-away Catholic who didn’t care for the Novus Ordo attended a TLM and she felt a deep connection; she ended up coming back to the faith before she lost her battle with cancer.
Have you encountered any resistance?
Since you asked I will answer. A lot of the resistance has come from other TLM attendees who feel they should compromise with the TLM. Collections by women, lay people reading the Gospel, a vigil TLM at 5 PM. I was in charge of a recent petition to bring the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter to Los Angeles, and I would say about a third of the Catholic people I asked to sign refused because they felt it was causing a division in the Church.
Has anyone derided you for attending the TLM?
Yes. Sadly, it was a few Seminarians I know.
How did you become the president of Una Voce LA?
I was asked to be President in 2010. After the Motu Proprio by Pope Benedict XVI I asked the Pastor at St. Victor’s in West Hollywood if I could organize a Latin Mass. He said yes and with the help of Fr. Don we had the first TLM in Hollywood in over 30 years, which drew over 300 people; the Church was at capacity. I started asking around with other churches about organizing a TLM and at that point I was contacted by Una Voce LA to be involved with their group.
What is it that Una Voce does?
Una Voce Los Angeles is a branch of Una Voce America–a part of the World Wide Una Voce Federation founded by Michael Davies. We have been wholeheartedly devoted to the education, spread and use of the Traditional Latin Mass in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
We have organized lectures explaining the Mass, Chant workshops and assistance for Parishes interested in having a TLM, as well as assisting the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter with their recent petition drive requested by the LA Archdiocese. In the past four years we have had over a dozen lectures, workshops and hundreds of TLMs in Los Angeles.
Have you noticed any trends in attendance and interest in the Latin Mass in your area since you became president of Una Voce LA?
More and more people are going and more and more parishes are offering them. There have been 12 or 13 churches that have had a Latin Mass either once or monthly and in some cases like St Anthony’s in Pasadena requested a TLM for the 125 year anniversary. People interested in the TLM in LA can click here and like us on Facebook.
Photos by Floyd Hartwick and Alex Healy