Saturday evening over 300 singers will take to the stage of the Kent Concert Hall at Utah State University to perform in the American Festival Chorus’ “Night of Gospel Music.” Pastor Chantel Wright of New York City will be featured as a guest conductor.
Literally meaning “the good news,” the word “gospel” describes the very essence of this genre and tradition of choral music. Artistic Director of the American Festival Chorus and Dean of the Caine College of the Arts at Utah State University, Dr. Craig Jessop says he has developed a love-affair for this music. Referring to guest conductor Chantel Wright he said:
"We brought her out two years ago in 2012 for an 'Evening of Gospel' because I knew Chantel could give us something Logan, Utah does not have. She came and the walls are still rocking from that concert and we had tremendous requests to ‘do it again, do it again."
However, he says, this year’s concert has particularly special meaning.
“One of our singers, one of the first that we brought out, Kris King, was a phenomenal young man that we just grew to love. He had a very sudden heart attack (August 10, 2012) and left us like that. We still are in shock. But before Kris left us he had asked me, ‘Dr. J, when are you going to do that concert again? Dr. J you’ve got to do this again.’ So part of this is my keeping a promise to Kris King, that we would do this again. I have a picture of him in my office, he greets me every morning when I come to work,” Jessop said.
Programming this music can be a challenge, especially for those who did not grow up in the tradition of Gospel. Pastor Wright is particularly gifted at bringing out the “soul” of a person, and letting the world see and partake of the experience along with her.
“I really don’t know how to describe it I just know what I want to hear in the back of my head. It may take us squawking like squeaky doors or jumping up and down or clapping until we feel a frenzy. Whatever it takes until we feel the authenticity of the music communicated, and when it is communicated the human spirit is lifted,” Wright says.
Jeunee Roberts, a former member of Pastor Wright’s New York City youth gospel chorus “Songs of Solomon,” is a USU music student who will also be performing on Saturday.
“I’ve realized that when you step back, and realize you’re not on the stage for yourself, that is when you are able to become a vessel, which is what we are supposed to be. And when we become the vessel then the people get the message,” Roberts said.
Associate Director of the American Festival Chorus and director of the Utah State University Chamber Singers, Dr. Cory Evans emphasizes that this concert is one you won’t want to miss.
“I think we’re seeing a change in the way choral music is done in the world today. We all grew up when going to a choral concert was two hours of stand and sing and then clap stand and sing and clap. We don’t do that anymore. Audiences’ attention spans are shorter and I think they want to be involved more in the music. So as people come to this concert they should not expect an evening of old dead composers. This is living music and a living American tradition,” he said
Pastor Wright says she hopes every person who attends on Saturday will leave being a better and more uplifted person than when they came. She leaves us with this blessing.
“If you’re feeling bad, that you go home feeling better. If you’ve lost hope, that hope would be renewed. If your faith is gone, that your faith be restored. If there is trouble, that trouble be lifted. That if you’re feeling great, that greater will be available for you.”
The concert will be held at Utah State University’s Kent Concert Hall on Saturday, February 15, 2014 at 7:30 PM.
For more information about this concert and other concerts by the American Festival Chorus, visit their website.