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Tuesday September 02, 2014
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Gospelfest

 

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and even agnostics and atheists.

Gospelfest has always pitched a big tent. Jean Wilson, choir director at St. Paul United Church of Christ in Saline and one of the annual event's co-founders, says that, when it began in 1992, the goal was "to bring together many different faith traditions" around a common interest in gospel music. And that's what this nice Jewish boy was doing at Gospelfest: exploring a long-held interest in and affection for gospel music. As the old New York subway ads used to say, "You don't have to be Jewish to love Levy's real rye bread." You also don't have to be Christian to feel stirred by the intricate syncopations, dazzling rhythms, and emotional power of gospel music.

So we, well over a hundred strong, talented amateurs to trained professionals, church choir members and probably some people whose kids ask them to stop singing, spent the afternoon of Gospelfest singing. Led by five music directors from churches around the Ann Arbor area and Detroit, we sang traditional African American spirituals like "I'm Gonna Eat at the Welcome Table" and Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready" as well as new songs written by Gospelfest guest directors. The atmosphere was relaxed but focused, the music not easy, and the instruction at once low-key and exacting. When we repeatedly muffed a passage in one of the songs, a director deadpanned, "We'll have to pay the composer extra if we change it, so let's do it the way it's written."

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