By Ang Cat
It started in November. The Toronto Mass Choir came to our church. They are a gospel choir and they rocked the roof off in rambunctious Caribbean praise and soothed us with gentle waves of soulful worship. We danced and sang and praised our God and Savior~King, Jesus.
At the end they announced that they would be having another Power Up workshop weekend in February, a time where participants go to learn different aspects of music and ultimately to learn to sing with a gospel choir.
Well, we did. My friend Carolyn and I just came back from a romping, intense, dancing, shaking, laughing, learning, exhausting one of a kind weekend.
Each of us attended different kinds of workshops ranging from Song Writing and Musicianship 101 to Hip Hop Dance. Yes my 41 year old friend went and pulled all her muscles trying to contort herself into different shapes as she leapt in the air and then spun on the floor. She is still limping.
The prize of the whole weekend though was the time spent with the actual choir, a group of approximately 30-40 people from many nations, who are energetic, talented, Jesus loving sisters and brothers. Their dynamic director is Karen Burke who is a professor at YorkUniversity where she teaches a course on Gospel Music and directs another choir there.
As we entered a large auditorium, we were directed to sit with our specific vocal group (either soprano, alto or tenor) and then Karen proceeded to teach us the four songs that we would need for the concert the following night. Over the course of that day and a half we learned the rhythms of gospel music, how to punch or stretch our consonants and vowels so they would be clearly understood by an audience and how to sing them out so their meaning was clear. We were to sing a song called "When I Praise". It is most beautiful and worshipful. Karen taught us the correct pronunciation of the word praise. It's not 'PRAISE',she said,but 'PRAYZE'! She coached us in the pronunciation of many words, how to move, rhythmically, joyfully, putting the song out there, communicating with everything in us that our King moves us, in every way and we will not hold back. The choir members came around us, encouraging, showing, laughing, leading. It was wonderful.
The time for the concert came and our guest showed up. Alvin Slaughter who is known for his work with the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir and also his independent work, was to be one of the guest performers and a soloist with the choir. All 120 of the weekend participants were going to sing and back him up in the beautiful piece "When I Praise".When he was welcomed to the front of the room where we were all gathered in a devotional time, he opened his heart and shared some of his testimony, gave us some more pointers on the singing of this song and we had some laughs. As soon as he opened his mouth and began to speak (never mind sing), I turned to Carolyn and said "O man, he has pipes!" He had such a deep, resonating voice that sounded like he was just waiting to burst out in some roaring, trumpeting worship.
And we were not disappointed.
The concert began. Another soloist sang, then the Toronto Mass Choir came on and led the large crowd in their own unique variety of Caribbean praise, black gospel renditions of hymns and soulful worship. Karen was in her element as she moved and pointed and raised and lowered the tones and volume of the choir. They were truly one, yet so diverse, all beautiful.
Then Alvin Slaughter sang and sang. He told funny stories, shared his testimony of personal struggles and the redeeming power of Christ in his life and sang some more. He is truly gifted to do what He does.
After the intermission it was our turn. All 120 of us, filed onto the huge platform, in our black outfits, nervous, giggly, elated, excited, the whole atmosphere charged with expectancy of the energy that was just waiting to be released. Karen stood on a large trunk in the centre aisle, so we could all see her as she conducted.
Then the magic began. The band, complete with highly skilled musicians on keyboards, guitars and drums began the intro to the first song. We swung and sang as Karen burst into fireball of motion. Her arms thrust, pointed, lifted, lowered. She was up on her toes, then down, bending knees, sideways, leaning hard with arm oustretched as she coaxed more sound, greater volume, repeating lines in a pounding ocean of rhythm. The first song was done, then the second and then Mr. Slaughter joined us on the stage as we prepared to sing "When I Praise". We sang the first line, softly, in unison..."When I praise, Your Name, heaven STOPS, to listen..." and as we continued he began to sing, complementing us with his solo, woven in and around the voices of the choir. We swayed and worshipped, he moved and moved us, with his voice lifted to the King. I could feel tears falling down my cheeks and such a sense of... "Awesome, this is what heaven is going to be like and I don't want it to stop."
But eventually the song and Alvin's part in it was winding to completion. He moved to the right of the stage as if to leave and Karen gave the signal to repeat, so we went right back to the place of his solo, so of course he returned, only this time, he faced us...large in all ways, black, smiling, sweating, encouraging...and began to wave his arms and shout "Come On!!!" and we sang. The music exploded in a crescendo of sound. It was almost mesmerizing. Karen on her trunk continued to flow in the dance of the director, beautiful, fluid, confident, loving every moment. Alvin singing, moving, worshipping in front of us on the stage and all of the choir bursting forth in increasing waves of sound.
And then it was over. This storming of heaven was accomplished and we proceeded off the stage, still singing until the last person was down.We were exhausted, full, laughing, exhilarated.
Dear King Jesus,
I hope we blessed You. I hope that the worship had a sweet fragrance for You, for it's all about You. Thank You for the privilege of participating in this time. It was good in every way... a sweet friend to share it with, an amazing time of learning and singing and a hubby who released me to go...
Thank You, Thank You