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Spring Choral Concert - "A Gospel Mass Celebration"

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We're excited to lead the Grace congregation in worship Sunday, May 7, at 8:15 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. with "A Gospel Celebration". This will be a memorable morning, and I believe you will be thrilled to be part of it. The whole day is going to be a joy - what could be better than to enjoy a service of Gospel music and then go and get some fantastic barbecue to support missions via "Holy Smokes?"

Gospel music is a pretty broad term. It can mean a lot of things. I'll share a conversation I had years ago with my friend Robert Robinson, an incredible Gospel singer from Minneapolis. I'd been promoting a concert "in the African-American musical tradition", and Robert gently said to me, "Dan, just call it Black Gospel." I have carried his words and his permission with me over these years. The music we'll be singing is music out of the Black Church music and worship tradition.

We've been able to assemble a world-class team to support this special service. Our guest conductor, Dr. Keith Hampton, is not only one of the nation's most sought-after Gospel specialists, he is a nationally-known classical organist and choral conductor. "Doc" has coached us in our Gospel music, and will lead from the piano, but he will also provide traditional Prelude, Postlude (you must not miss his "Improvisation on We Shall Overcome" postlude!) and will lead us on a grand and traditional opening hymn.

In addition to Dr, Hampton, we will be supported by the amazing Gospel organ work of Marianne Kim, one of Chicagoland's most versatile artists, who recently played a classical organ recital and full sung Evensong at Grace on a week's notice. Marianne has also played a solo piano program for "Celebrate the Season" and recently appeared with the incredible Lakeside Singers at Grace.

Joining us on drums and bass, we welcome our friends Nills Higdon (freelance professional percussionist) and Chris Dixon (professional bassist, trombonist, and teacher in the Chicago Public Schools.)

Our service will also include two lovely selections by the Grace Bell Ensemble, who have prepared these special pieces as a bit of a farewell to the very talented Veronica Radowicz, in anticipation of her move to Milwaukee. We are pleased to have the bells join us in this celebration service. The Chancel Choir and Festival Singers will present Dr, Hampton's celebrated composition "Praise His Holy Name". The heart of the service will be "Gospel Mass" by Robert Ray. "Gospel Mass" combines the texts and structure of historic Christian worship with a winsome and exciting Black-Gospel style. Our final Gospel selection will be sung during Communion, a moving piece called "Only Love Held Him There".

There are so many reasons to look forward to this day. It represents for me a long history with Black-Gospel music done by world-class musicians. This music speaks to me and to millions in a universal and very Biblical way. It speaks to a philosophy I've taught for most of my years in church worship ministry. If one has worked hard and studied and honed their craft, the musician who is versatile is often the most capable and compelling. Many of the world's greatest classical artist flow fluidly between genres. Renee Fleming, Yo Yo Ma, Lang Lang and so many others show us that to be eclectic in style and capability takes nothing from our classical bona fides. That eclecticism tends to create a greater ability for the artist to communicate well through their classical repertoire.

So this Sunday, we celebrate what a rather traditional but very capable choir can do when we dedicate ourselves fully to celebrating a style of music that we love, even when it is a bit of a change, We believe we'll be a better choir because of it.

Finally, a word of appreciation for an anonymous family who approached me some months ago and asked how they could help us this year. Sunday's service has been funded entirely by the generosity of this one family. In these times of belt-tightening in the church, Sunday's event would not be possible. We give thanks that the generosity of our church family will be put to use in a way that will facilitate glorious and joyful worship to all of our edification.