When John Watson talks about the new music series he is organizing to introduce local vocalists and instrumentalists to the public, he stresses doing so in an "intellectual and dignified manner."
With last Friday's debut of John Watson and Company, an 11-member chorale whose performance at Plymouth Congregational Church inaguruated this nonprofit musical organization, there is no question that Watson knows how to put on airs.
The premiere concert was an evening of elegance and style. Dress for the chorale was black tie and ivory-colored evening gowns, which carried off a look that fell short of neither of Watson's promises.
More thatn that, however, this was an exciting musical evening. This group can already claim to be one of the best of its kind locally and, yes, nationally -- partly because the ensemble has as many strong solo voices as it has members, partly because John Watson has as much talent as he has determination.
Friday's debut overflowed with new songs by Watson that ranged from contemporary arrangements with the flavor of rhythm and blues to long ballads, searing with the strongest of human emotions.
More importantly, however, with this single concert, Watson has done much for a style of music that, according to him, the public rarely expects to see in such a formal concert: gospel.
"For so long, gospel has been considered as simply a noise music. There are so many negative attributes," Watson said.
By carefully staging and attending to every detail, Watson presented a gala Friday, that erased any possibly negative stereotypes about gospel music.
Soloists sang under soft spotlights. Any movement on stage was choregoraphed and timed. The program flowed without a hitch -- very smooth, very elegant, very unlike gospel as most of us know it.
The mood was formal but the music . . . ah, down-home.
Some tunes were upbeat and contemporary, such as Watson's "Since I Foune the Lord" and "Teach Me Lord." Other songs such as Watson's "My Life With God" borrowed elements from traditional Negro spirituals.
Lydia K. Wright gave a soft but stunning solo delivery of this song, embellished with a bass and percussion crescendo by Sherman Blair and Ronald Gibson. Their restraint on these instruments made the snares and bass guitar seem as natural in this setting as the church organ, played by Tangelia Rowe.
Most of the music at the end of the program elicted shouts, "hallelujahs" and endless clapping from the "Amen" corner. For all the elegance and style of the evening, the holy spirit, as it were, was not lost.
John Watson and Company Inc., an umbrella term for the organization that plans to include the chorale, a gospel "symphonette," educational workshops and a concert series featuring local talent, promotes all types of sacred music -- not just gospel, but classical and folk music as well. t
"Most people are just promoted in their own churches," according to Watson. "As far as I know, we're the only ones in town promoting these young people on this scale in a nondenominational setting."
Supporting young people who sing in churches and giving them exposure is a good idea, one that is backed by names like Billy Preston, Donna Summer and Aretha Franklin. They all started their careers in church. Imagine the possibilities.
John Watson and Company is currently recruiting members and sponsors. For more information, call 287-5761 or 289-2031.