Gospel Fest 2012



On the evening of soul music paragon Whitney Houston’s funeral services at New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, New Jersey, the Harlem Gospel Choir arrived at Memorial Chapel through heavy snow to sing and praise at Gospel Fest 2012. Joined by Colgate’s student gospel choir, the Sojourners, the performers promised an evening of spiritual affirma­tion, assisted by awe-inducing vocals, enthusiastic audience participation and a little hand-clapping up high, down low and at various tempos.

“I’ll say yes, Lord,” the Sojourners solemnly declared.

“Get your praise on!” a member of the Harlem Gospel Choir enjoined.

The Sojourners began the night with the fast, rhythmic, modern gospel standard “Hosanna” written by Gospel Fest 2011 performer Kirk Franklin and followed with the chant-like avowal “I’ll Say Yes.” A wide range of students of different years, creeds, races and genders took to the stage under the banner of Sojourners. The Sojourners put in a spirited performance.

“Some day every song shall confess your name… Hosanna, forever we worship you!” the Sojourners intoned.

The Harlem Gospel Choir, wearing orange mantles emblazoned with an African design over simple black garb, then took to the stage with the march-like “Hallelujah, Salvation and Glory.” The gospel choir identified themselves as brothers and sisters, and individual brothers and sisters alternated in singing solos and conducting songs.

On the first song singing the verse “the Lord our God is wonder­ful,” the choir built up the “wooooon” in “wonderful” into a seem­ingly endless swell until the sudden interjection of the song’s con­ductor with a staccato “der-ful!” The choir then brought the song to a dramatic finish with two sustained, resonant chords on their own “der-ful!”

The Harlem Gospel Choir’s entire performance would be marked by such musical flourishes. On the joyous, shimmying “Oh! Happy Day!” the choir brought the audience into the movement with some call and response. On “I Know a Man from Galilee,” which was led in by “shoo-doo-doo-doo-doops” from the choir and peals on the key­board from the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back,” the choir truly brought in the audience as a member went out into the crowd and invited members to sing solos into the microphone.

“I know a man from Galilee,” first-year James Buttner, sophomore Sam Frank and a third audience member sang in crisp, pitch-perfect solo jots.

The choir followed with a re­markable solo performance of their own as one member sang a ravish­ing “Amazing Grace.” The perfor­mance was one of astonishing range in falsetto, tenor and bass vibrato and arpeggios.

Mindful of the recent passing of the famous daughter of gospel and great American voice Whitney Houston, the Harlem Gospel Choir led a two song tribute to the singer highlighted by a stirring rendition of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” Members of the choir in turn sang with power, sweetness, radiance, majesty and grace. The song finished with a finale of syncopated, but harmonious bursts, capped off with an ecstatic scream of release. It was grief welling up and washing itself away.

The choir finished strong, leading the crowd in some up-tempo numbers that created spontaneous dancing in the aisles and a train of praiseful worshippers that wound its way through the aisles of the chapel. At the end of the night, after the Harlem Gospel Choir wished its goodnight, the audience, an unprecedented mix for this event of students and visitors, made their way exaltedly and joyously out into the snowy night.

Contact Thomas Wiley at [email protected].