'How Sweet the Sound' gospel competition; Calder Quartet; Left Bank Quartet

On Nov. 13, 14 choirs competed for the title of "Best Church Choir in America" at the national "How Sweet the Sound Finale" competition.
Monday, November 15, 2010

Fourteen gospel choirs from around the country transformed Verizon Center into a sanctified church and made Saturday night feel like a Sunday morning. Verizon's third national "How Sweet the Sound Finale" competition kept the preaching to a minimum but delivered plenty of praise.

Gospel superstars CeCe Winans and Donald Lawrence hosted the competition while the equally illustrious Marvin Sapp, Fred Hammond and Karen Clark Sheard judged the choirs on stage presence, technical merit, originality and interpretation. Since all of them sang forcefully, theatrics often became the distinguishing factor for the groups.

That said, the District's all-male Greater Mount Calvary Men of Valor offered a stately rendition of Milton Brunson's "Available to You," earning the $5,000 "National People's Choice Award." On the opposite end was California's Voices of Destiny, which took home the top prize of $25,000 with droll performance of Kurt Carr's "My Time for God's Favor" that simultaneously channeled bristling Baptist church services and the cutesy choreography from TV's "Glee." Chicago's Greater First Church Chorale brought a similar intensity to Reginald Herber and John Dykes's "Holy Holy Holy," resulting in one of the evening's most musically intricate and emotionally gripping performances, and earning the $15,000 runner-up prize.

Although it didn't win, no one outdid Detroit's Burning Bush International Ministries Mass Choir in terms of spectacle with its rendition of Joe Pace's "Stir Up the Gift" that had some of the men wearing "Phantom of the Opera" masks and the women donning fans -- all while incorporating hip-hop and black Greek fraternity step-show dance moves.

Tarboro, N.C.'s Salvation and Deliverance Church Choir gave a histrionic take on Horatio Spafford and Philip Bliss's "It Is Well With My Soul" that included cardiovascular-pumping handclaps and jarring choreography. But Sapp took most note of choir director Kristian Herring's sparkling shoes.

"I almost didn't hear the choir with your shoes being so loud," Sapp joked. That was no small feat considering that Herring also delivered the event's most ear-splitting scream.

-- John Murph


Calder Quartet

Bartok's Second String Quartet may be less anguished and astringent than its partners in the composer's set of six quartets, but it's still no walk in the park.

It says something that the Calder Quartet, in its recital at the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue on Saturday, was able to conjure the lush world of Ravel's String Quartet in the lyrical first movement, and found a Beethovenian strain of stark yet approachable melancholy in the final movement. Bartok's arresting middle movement, with its fits, starts and broken melodies, was mined for its bleak humor and obsessive energy, but without surrendering the ensemble's notably handsome tone.

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