Mass Choir Suggests a Brighter Future for Gospel Music

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

From Sunday's stellar performance offered by the Men, Women and Children of the Gospel Mass Choir, you would never know that gospel singing is undergoing a crisis in American churches -- black and white alike.

This style of musicmaking is a genuine high art that requires long-term training from an early age, as well as commitment and conviction. But over recent decades, gospel singers and instrumentalists are being lured away from church positions by more lucrative hip-hop and other related pop styles of today.

Performing at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, the mass choir made the future of gospel -- first and foremost church music -- look brighter. Directed by Stanley J. Thurston and his associate, Phillip Carter, the nearly 300 local singers performed as one voice, with perfect ensemble, intonation and diction. They were accompanied by a classical symphony orchestra and a band (piano, organ, keyboard, bass, guitar and percussion). Entering into the occasion, the audience responded warmly to every song with bodies and voices alike.

Choreographed by Diedre Neal, an inspiring corps of young dancers accompanied some choir numbers, their gestures "voicing" the text with added intensity. Among the excellent vocal soloists, 16-year-old Rolyndria Anderson burst into remarkable melodic extemporizing on the basic tune of "For Every Mountain."

The young sign interpreter Reginald Chiles kept up with his adult colleagues, not only signing but also moving in rhythmic accord with the singing. With a view toward posterity, the Washington Performing Arts Society, which founded the mass choir, also sponsors an annual Children of the Gospel Summer Music Academy.

-- Cecelia Porter

© 2007 The Washington Post Company