At LAX, TSA Workers Sing Cheer Into Holiday Travel

Dec 24, 2011
Originally published on December 25, 2011 7:20 am

Turns out some of those dour security officers who make you take your shoes off at the airport have plenty of Christmas spirit. Travel isn't usually a highlight of the holidays, but at Los Angeles International Airport some of the Transportation Security Administration workers enjoy the season so much they sing.

True to its duties, the LAX TSA Chorus isn't joking. Its singers are actually TSA employees who don Santa hats during the holiday season and perform in the middle of the airport.

Ray Matute, the director of the chorus, tells Weekend Edition Sunday host Audie Cornish that the quizzical looks the singers get from hassled travelers soon turn to smiles.

"It really puts the good face — and the human face — of TSA on the map," he says. Matute's passion for music led him to found the chorus a few years back. "It gives all of us creative people here within the organization an outlet."

During its 45-minute show, the chorus sings the usual Christmas carols — Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, Silver Bells — but also slips in some of the singers' own favorites, like What a Wonderful World and You Are So Beautiful.

"Its signature song? America the Beautiful," of course.

Some might worry about who's patting down passengers, but Matute reassures. "There's 2,000 officers here at LAX, so having 16 of us out for one hour to do some performances does not impact the operation."

There's video of the chorus performing during last year's holiday season here, with a report from USA Today.

As the Los Angeles Times wrote earlier this week, the LAX singers also perform "motivational and patriotic fare on Veterans Day, Memorial Day, July 4 and Sept. 11." They've been singing together since 2003, the Times says.

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We know that holiday travel can be trying, especially security lines. But the Transportation Security Administration officers at the airport in Los Angeles try and ease the pain with music. The LAX TSA Choir is the brainchild of director Raul Matute.

RAUL MATUTE: I told our directors at the time, hey, the Navy has a band; the U.S. Army has a band; the Marine Corps got a great band; and I know the Air Force has a great jazz band. Doesn't it make sense for the TSA to have a chorus or some type of an ensemble to motivate the troops?

LAX TSA CHOIR: (Singing) You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen...

MATUTE: And they kind of looked at me and said maybe you have a point there.

CHOIR: (Singing) The most famous reindeer of all. Rudolph the red nose reindeer...

MATUTE: I hold auditions and try to maintain four altos, sopranos, tenor and bass and I play keyboards and arrange and write all the music.

CHOIR: (Singing) Silver bells, silver bells, it's Christmastime in the city...

MATUTE: At a lot of our performances, especially during the holiday season, we kind of get a quizzical look of aren't you the guys who make us take off our shoes?

CHOIR: (Singing) Oh, walking in a winter wonderland, wonderland...

MATUTE: Yes, we're asking you to remove your shoes, but we are humans, we all have our own careers and lives. And this shows who we are really.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Good afternoon, everyone. We are the TSA Chorus. We're here today to sing a few songs for y'all and put a smile on your face, everyone. Happy Holidays from TSA.

CORNISH: Members of the LAX TSA Chorus and their director, Raul Matute. You can see a video of one of their performances at the Los Angeles International Airport - complete with Santa hats - on NPR.org.

CHOIR: (Singing) I see them blooming for me and you. And I think to myself, what a wonderful world...

CORNISH: You're listening to NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.