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ISSUE 119 VOL 18 PUBLISHED 4/28/2006

Gospel Choir takes crowd higher

By Clare Kennedy
Arts Editor

Friday, April 28, 2006

Yearning for a vacation from the staidness of your icy, Norwegian heritage? Look no further than St. Olaf's own Gospel Choir.

On Sunday afternoon, director Jack Yates and his black-clad singers brought the noise and the funk with their decidedly boisterous Spring Concert.

At first the crowd was lukewarm, but with Yates' insistent prodding they rose to the occasion: “Are you guys gonna help us praise God?” he thundered.

Dissatisfied with scattered “Yeahs” and “Amens,” Yates boomed, “I say, are you gonna help us praise God! Say Amen!”

After extracting an adequate response, the choir leader was ready to begin and the choir began to sway to the music of a grand piano and a bass guitar.

The first song, like many in the program, was an upbeat number with ample call and response between Yates and his singers. The choir tore into the refrain “God, Great God, Jehova,” and finished with flourish.

The next song was musically similar to the last, but featured solos by Bryanna Bellard '07 and LaCresha Payne '07.

Bellard, a natural gospel singer, handled her part with ease. Payne had a high voice and facile vocal control. It was clear that she put her whole being into the song – so much of her being, in fact, that she fainted at the end.

The show came to a standstill. Yates quickly regained his equilibrium and cued the music. The choir sang, weakly, then with more joy.

Yates prayed as family helped Payne off stage. By the time the choir started “We Shall Overcome,” a stretcher arrived and wheeled Payne out.

“Don't get nervous, just put on an attitude of praise,” Yates said.

Yates often prompted the audience to sing with the choir, and once took the microphone himself, crooning with the choir in a clear tenor. The choir ended with a cheerful song and filed off stage singing and bouncier than ever.

In spite of the scare, the concert was a victory for the choir, which has been under Yates’ leadership for the past school year. Under Yates, there is more emphasis on God, which was amply reflected in the concert.

“I saw them last year and it sounded a lot better,” said Claire LaSee '08. “This time they were more focused on spirituality, than how the notes came out.”

It is true that the Gospel Choir does not have the tonal smoothness and classical perfection of other groups. The choir made up for these deficiencies in spirit. Many members wouldn't have it any other way.

“I sing with my soul more,” Bellard said. “This year has been more genuine to the gospel experience that LaCresha and I share.”

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