TSA Chorus checks in at LAX with holiday spirit, music
Transportation Security Administration officers at Los Angeles International Airport aren't just busy checking baggage and enforcing the 3-ounce liquid limit this year — they're putting on a show.
The blue-shirted airport officers are upping the holiday spirit at LAX by caroling for passengers and employees in the American Airlines and Tom Bradley terminals this week. Talk about flying friendly skies.
"It's a way for the TSA to put on a public face," said Raul Matute, director of the LAX TSA Chorus. "Yes, we're going to tell you to remove your shoes, but we're going to make a song out of it."
Matute, a TSA manager when he isn't playing the keyboards or directing the chorus, started the 18-person group in 2003. He's enjoying his third consecutive year leading the ensemble's holiday program at LAX. The volunteers usually perform motivational and patriotic fare on Veterans Day, Memorial Day, July 4 and Sept. 11, but during the holidays it's time to get into the Christmas spirit.
"Spontaneously, when we were playing, soldiers and employees would start dancing. The public loved it," he said, welcoming the positive attitude toward the airport stalwart that has come under fire for its pat-downs and last year's full-body scanner controversy.
Most members of the volunteer-based group have some sort of musical background, are choir directors at their churches or have studied music in school.
Harried passengers bustling through the terminals can listen in on the performances or sing along to the chorus' motivational music and Christmas medley during 45-minute sets on Tuesday and Thursday, which will be played over the group's own PA system. The singers are decked out in their regular TSA uniforms, but red Santa hats and candy cane brooches have made appearances for the occasion.
And who'll be checking those bags during showtime?
"There's 2,000 employees at LAX. Someone will cover scanners," Matute, 60, said.
Even though the group's signature piece is Ray Charles' "America the Beautiful," Matute said he looks forward to singing "Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel," a song with lyrics about the birth of Jesus Christ.
"We don't do 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen' because it's a government chorus, and we try to keep church and state out of it," said Matute. "But I'm pushing the envelope a little bit with that one," he laughed. "It's Christmas."
— Nardine Saad