When the lights turn low, audience members scurry to find their seats, but I am surprised that the room continues to stay dark. A single voice pierces the darkness, a soulful alto, soon answered by harmonies from around the room. Flickering candles lead the way as the singers slowly sing their way towards the stage, their candlelight and harmonies winding an intricate braid through the audience. When the lights are turned on for the next song, the multi-ethnic choral group, Sacred Song, is gathered behind a beautiful display of seashells and candles, a centerpiece for the world as much as for the stage.

“An Evening of Sacred Song” is an annual benefit concert of a cappella and accompanied vocal music and more. It calls itself “A Celebration of Peace, Community, and Spirit.” The group’s director, Laura Machida, writes in its blog: “These evenings gather the community and provide a time to share and generate energy together, giving voice to the sacred power within. The singers, who live locally, believe that the conditions of our current times can be improved if we open to the spirit of loving sister- and brotherhood within us all.”

Members of this ensemble are well known throughout the community, and just as diverse as the chorus members themselves is the eclectic variety of musical styles, encompassing folk, gospel, sixties songs, rock, world music, funk, and cowboy songs.

Yep, that’s right. Cowboy songs. Complete with yodeling. I told you–diverse.

The wide range of music is woven together to allow each member to show off his or her particular strength. The concert moves skillfully between the lighthearted and the soulful, the celebratory and the pensive. The lyrics of each song reveal much about the character of this chorus. The final song is an amazing funk number–the entire ensemble alive and dancing and joined by all former members–that takes down the house.

Perhaps most distinctive is that every year the proceeds of this concert are donated to a different local nonprofit organization that affirms the values of social justice and spiritual inclusiveness. Past beneficiaries have included the Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights and the Women’s Center of Southeastern Michigan.

At the end of the concert is a small reception with appetizers and desserts where audience members have a chance to socialize and meet the singers before taking that good energy back out into the snow.

The fifteenth annual Evening of Sacred Song is to be held on Saturday, December 3, at the Vineyard Church on Platt Road. And there may or may not be cowboy music this year.