Dartmouth Gospel Choir puts on a star-studded show

by Caroline Maxwell | 11/15/04 6:00am

The Gospel Choir performed this weekend with crowd-pleasing numbers that drew a bevy of soul enthusiasts. They played up to this term's theme, "Gospel Choir Goes to Hollywood," with the choir itself entering the show in spotlights like true stars. But more importantly, they sang favorites from such movies as "The Fighting Temptations," "The Color Purple" and "Sister Act II," which were recognized and thoroughly enjoyed by the vast majority of the audience members.

Last year the Gospel Choir found a new Artistic Director in Walter Cunningham Jr, who also plays piano for the group. Cunningham has proved to be a very well-liked and respected addition to the choir and has helped with suggestions that are making the Gospel Choir increasingly popular in the community. Last year's concert boasted the highest attendance of any Gospel Choir performance to date.

The Gospel Choir is also aided by the work of several fantastic soloists who display a diverse range of vocals. Backing them up is the sweet-sounding choir itself, with over 50 smiling, positive people from the community and the college who came to "make some noise for the Lord."

The Choir is different from so many other performance groups because its members interact directly with the audience, encouraging them to stand, clap, groove or even to shout "amen" every once and a while. The members enjoyed emphasizing that there was no divider between the audience and performers, and that it was a performance in which the audience was meant to participate.

The theme of positive relationships was present throughout the show. It was touching to see the general choir members support the soloists, whether it was interjecting with enthusiasm or just giving the singers a pat on the back at the end of their solos. Even the director commented and complimented the soloists several times between numbers, acknowledging that many of the singers were soloists for the first time in public that afternoon.

The director and choir's discourse with the audience was equally friendly and open. They offered information about where the songs performed came from, and even a synopsis for each movie from which they drew the pieces. Comments on each song ranged from delight at a soloist's voice to the admission that one song, which sounded fantastic, had never been run through in front of the director.

The performance Sunday was enhanced by an organ, played by Shawn Hibbler; a bass, played by Arethias Hall; drumming by Kenneth Coats and Bobby Wright on guitar. They only added to the already positive vibe of the show, and seemed genuinely pleased to be part of the event. Wright joyfully tapped his guitar with his free hand when not playing and the band members continually encouraged the audience to join in over the mike.

The Gospel Choir put forth an uplifting show looked at life in a refreshingly optimistic manner. It did not deny pain and a bit of the blues, but it embraced emotion and suggested that faith can help with life's troubles. This is not a novel approach, but it can be very refreshing as winter sets in and finals threaten to be sooner than you can be ready for them.