Soul Stew

Gospel Music. Now that’s religion with some meat on it. Not the mamby pamby nicey nicey incense sleepy music of white religion. This stirs the pot, gets the blood pumping down to your toes, gets your goose bumps popping, blows your hair back, lifts the roof right off you! I can see heaven, I can feel it, thumping in my chest, ringing in my ears, rattling my teeth. Let it all out. You’re safe. Let God hear you cry out to him in joy, in awe, in trust, cry out in passion, cry out in pain. It’s OK. You’re safe. It even got my mamby pamby white soul bouncing and smiling and clapping. There’s no choice, not any more than fighting a river you’ve been thrown in. It flows and you flow with it. Or you sit it out, numb, lost, fuming at what you’re missing.

I played a concert earlier tonight, with the Columbus Gospel Choir. Once a year we do Gospel Meets Symphony. We’ve done it the past six years. It’s always fun, but often a little amateurish. This time they had a reputable soloist, Reverend Richard Smallwood. And an experienced gospel conductor and arranger, Darin Atwater. It was well organized, high quality.

The choir was fantastic. All local folks. Unbelievable power, for 150 people. It’s all inclusive, made up of any race, and any church, all gospel. They wore all different color and pattern shawls symbolizing the melting pot of soul. Divine Diversity. (That’s also a song they sing at the end of every show.)

Some songs were done without orchestra, so I could watch. The choirs own conductor stepped up, a large, wide, bookish looking woman with a huge gap between her front teeth. Not glamorous. And she would raise her arms in a commanding gesture, hands out stretched. She had your attention. Even I would sit up. Her face took over your concentration, saying “Go with me.” She conducted with huge, powerful swings and jabs and gesticulations, in exact time with the words and song. She knew every rhythm, every word, every breath of the songs. She was in complete control. No questions. (I’m glad I’m not her husband.) But it was a joyous spirit that moved her, so she was intoxicating to watch.

Even they were engaging to watch, with arching, meaningful motions in their whole body, head, arms and hands, signing and emoting the music silently. Someone hearing impaired would certainly feel the thumping air, see the fervent bodies, rise with that spirit.

There were several good soloists chosen from the choir. Even a white girl, who roused the crowd with her fervor. But the main attraction was Richard Smallwood, a big time gospel circuit singer. He worked the crowd to a tizzy, turned them on, dangled them by his strings. At one point, at the end of a song, the choir and audience went nuts. They wouldn’t stop clapping and stomping in a fantastically fast rhythm, alternating clapping off beats and stomping. And the drummer egged them on when they started to flag. He’d wind them back up like a toy doll. The building shook. The mood had a force of it’s own, inevitable. This went on for 10 minutes. I sat right in front of the choir. I turned around to watch them from my seat in the orchestra, and they were enraptured, gyrating, pulsing, like a huge pot of bubbling stew, rupturing forth spirit like steam. Joyous Steam.

It’s going to be hard to go back to a white meat, cold cut, bread and butter life tomorrow.

3 thoughts on “Soul Stew

  1. I have coordinated Gospel Meets Symphony for the past four years and so enjoyed your impressions of the concert. Politics being what it is, yours may well be the only review we get this year. It was so beautifully written. Perhaps better than a formal newspaper review – yes, in so many ways.

    I so often wonder what the orchestra members are thinking. This is not an easy time for the orchestra and I know there are others who wonder what the heck this Gospel Meets Symphony thing is all about. Putting it mildly. Mostly I’ve heard, “Well, it’s a job.” when I’ve asked. I don’t know, maybe we have to be touched by life to really feel this particular concert. I’m so glad you recognized the effort we made to bring this to the symphony’s level. Maybe I’m overstepping, but I always wonder how we can communicate with the orchestra to continue making this a true artistic partnership as well as a beneficiary partnership. It’s not a huge fundraiser for any of us at this point, but we haven’t lost money yet. It’s difficult to get the message across that this is not only a fundraising effort and a leadership event for diversity, but one that we would like to see develop in terms of artistic excellence. I really don’t see how that can be done without input from those who perform the music. That was what this year was all about. Reaching out to you – the orchestra – in what we hoped would be closer to your language.

    We can’t do this without you. I am happy that you were pleased and have shared your writing with our GMS family. Hope you don’t mind. Love, Marilyn

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