African American spirituals have rapidly become as much a part of the community choral societies' repertory as anything by Bach or Mozart. That these strikingly beautiful and unorthodox songs are so widely disseminated needs no explanation.
What might be explained, however, is why the Prince George's Choral Society devoted an entire program to spirituals Friday night when the group could offer to the music so little of its own.
True, conductor Ron Freeman rallied his forces into the requisite optimism and bonhomie for staples like "Rise, Shine" and "Kumbayah," but the overall effect was teeth-achingly sweet. In addition, muddled transitions undermined the musicianship. The damage was especially apparent during "Jacob's Ladder's" excursions into alien modes.
Linda Del Piano, in her work, sang leads like those in "Were You There?" with refinement and grace, but without standing out as a strong soloist. For her thin, reedy voice to carry to the pews would have taken more than the acoustically sympathetic Redeemer Lutheran Church had to offer. Dan Kerr did some fine work in "You May Bury Me in the East" and "Precious Lord." The society fared better when interesting harmonies, not call-and-response singing, shaped the songs -- for example, "Balm in Gilead" came off with hushed simplicity. But most welcome, in the program's second half, were Jester Hairston's quick, rhythmic arrangements of "Elijah Rock" and "Poor Man Lazarus," injecting a few notes of variety into a performance that lent itself to homogenous treatment of diverse material.