Pushing the Envelope of Gospel Music
The Genesis Gospel Choir pushed the envelope of the gospel genre at a recent concert (Genesis Gospel Choir). Enthusiasm and spirit made up for any weaknesses in their command of the music. The audience was appreciative and engaged and the overall experience was interesting.
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At a concert of gospel music at Lehman College’s Recital Hall on December 4, the Genesis Gospel Choir was led by Donburn Wint. The choir was joined by several other groups, including H.E.L.P. Ministries, Righteous Cultah, Anisha Lovemore, Purpose, and Living Testimony (Lehman Center For The Arts). The venue is a room of modest size that did not overpower the performers.
The choristers were occasionally accompanied by an instrumental ensemble. The strong percussion sound kept the singers in rhythm. Sometimes this was a bit overpowering.
The piano helped to keep the singers on key. This seemed to give the singers confidence with complicated harmonies. It was not clear, whether their uncertainty was from lack of rehearsal, unfamiliarity with these particular harmonies, or not reading music. In some cases, the singers were uncomfortable with higher notes. However, when they knew what to reach for, some of them reached high notes successfully.
It was a bit disappointing that the titles and composers of the pieces were not listed in the program (Lehman Center For The Arts). The performers announced most pieces, but not clearly enough.
The choral pieces were more complex than more traditional gospel songs that this audience member has heard, like My God is a Mighty Man (The Southern Sons). They included some very unexpected harmonies. There was nothing inevitable about the chord progressions. They reminded me of jazz, which fits with the African American background of this musical genre (University of Chicago).
They also reminded me of some modern classical compositions. It seemed possible that some pieces were premieres. These pieces of music seemed worth the effort to perfect them. They also showed promise that they would be worth hearing again.
These pieces did not seem to be improvised, with some exceptions. It seemed, for example, that soloist Anisha Lovemore improvised around the melody. She did not refer to sheet music.
The performers were mostly young and female. They obviously enjoyed singing this music together. The soloists appeared more confident in some cases. The instrumentalists were enthusiastic as well.
The complexity of the harmonies did present some challenges to the choir. Any lack of vocal skill or unity was offset by their eagerness to share their message, however.
It was not always easy to understand the words, and this was a bit disappointing. However, it was clear that these singers were using the same technique of supporting a religious text with music that has been part of sacred music since the medieval era (Kamien 78). The overall message was about God. This message agreed with what was expressed in the concert program (Lehman Center For The Arts).
Their spirited performances were received appreciatively by a diverse audience that included both African American, white, Asian, male and female members. Some audience members responded by standing and swaying in rhythm. The audience was cheerfully supportive all the way through, and occasionally said ‘Amen’. They were on the performers’ side all the way.
This was a very foreign experience for me because this was not the tradition in which I was raised. However everyone welcomed me and tried to make me feel comfortable and at home. I felt that the composers were trying to do something more sophisticated than in traditional gospel compositions.
Even when the performers were not in command of the music, they were trying hard, and they seemed to feel it deeply. This experience made me wish that I could hear these works when they were more polished. That way I could perhaps understand better what the composer was trying to accomplish.
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As an example of the new directions for gospel music, this was a very interesting concert. It showed what might be the future of this genre. I enjoyed it in spite of it being so unfamiliar with the context.
Genesis Gospel Choir. “Genesis Gospel Choir Concert.” New York, 2013. Live Performance.
Kamien, Roger. Music: An Appreciation. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011.
Lehman Center For The Arts. “Genesis Gospel Choir.” Concert Program. Lehman College of the City University of New York, 2013. Print.
The Southern Sons. “My God is a Mighty Manl.” Deep South Gospel. By E. Ratliff, et al. Alligator. Web.
University of Chicago. “Gospel: Defiinition of Style.” 2013. University of Chicago. Web.