The American Spiritual Ensemble’s upcoming performance with
Cathedral Concerts in February to kick off Black History Month was the
impetus to take the celebration not just one — but two steps further.
Concerts has announced “Joyous Jubilee: Music to Lift the Soul,” three
evenings of sacred, spiritual and Gospel music at the Cathedral Basilica
of Saint Louis. The series will feature the North City Deanery Choir on
Jan. 18; the Gospel Symphonic Choir on Jan. 25; and the final
performance by the American Spiritual Ensemble on Feb. 1.
Concerts executive director Scott Kennebeck noted that there was a
desire to bridge the two weeks between MLK Day and the beginning of
Black History Month. He turned to Joyce Jones — a friend and longtime
member of several St. Louis choirs over the years — who made
arrangements with the North City Deanery and Gospel Symphonic choirs,
both of whom are based in St. Louis.
“They jumped at the chance,
which I am very grateful for,” Kennebeck said. “We’re excited to have
them come and sing concerts here.”
North City Deanery Choir
members of the North City Deanery Choir have sung together for years,
although the group as it exists now has been around for the better part
of a year, under the co-direction of Danny DuMaine, choir director at
St. Alphonsus “Rock” Parish in north St. Louis, and Simeon Layne Jr.,
director of music at St. Augustine Parish in north St. Louis.
choir was formed out of an effort of the archdiocesan Interracial
Relations Committee, which last year sponsored a speakers series. The
series culminated with a deanerywide revival at Sts. Teresa and Bridget
Church last May, featuring a performance by the choir, which includes
members of Catholic parishes in the North City Deanery and others.
said that the majority of the choir’s music is contemporary gospel,
with songs featuring a fusion of traditional, spirituals, jazz, blues
and classical repertoires. DuMaine, a composer and writer, has composed
numerous original songs, including “In the Arms of the Lord,” which will
be performed at the cathedral basilica concert.
The choir “sings
from the heart, from the soul,” Layne said. “It’s about God — everything
is about God. Every time they sing they take themselves to the place of
the throne. They’re with Jesus at the table, and it’s another moment
with Christ. They come expecting to receive Christ in another way.”
Gospel Symphonic Choir
St. Louis-based Gospel Symphonic Choir has been around the for better
part of a quarter century, according to director Dello Thedford. The
group formed from a variety of people, including choir members at Mount
Zion Missionary Baptist Church in East St. Louis, Ill., where he
previously was minister of music; and Jennings High School alumni.
Thedford is performing arts director with the Jennings School District
and choral director at the high school.
“I am just really
delighted we are part of this series,” Thedford said. “What we do is all
for the greater glory of God. Period. We even say no man gets the glory
… but that God gets the glory of everything.”
the choir a blend of classical and the influence of small African
American churches, “where people harmonized and made up their own
harmonies.” Having experienced that latter style in his childhood,
Thedford said “it was very fulfilling spiritually to the congregation.”
choir explores songs such as “Jesus Loves Me” — which will be featured
at the concert at the cathedral basilica — which Thedford described as
having a “simple melody, but we sing it in a classical way. There are
some jazz idioms in the accompaniment, and further in the song it has
some gospel like chords that bring a lot of attention to the listener in
a very fulfilling way.
“What I have taken is simple hymns with a
classical feel but soulful feel,” Thedford said. “I like to refer to my
gospel music as refined gospel music.”
American Spiritual Ensemble
American Spiritual Ensemble describes its mission as keeping the
American Negro spiritual alive. It has performed concerts worldwide,
including at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and the
Metropolitan Opera and Radio City Music Hall, both in New York.
group’s repertoire ranges from classic spirituals to jazz and Broadway
numbers and dance, all highlighting the Black experience. More than 90
percent of its members are soloists who have sung in theaters and opera
houses worldwide. The ensemble was founded in 1995 by Everett McCorvey,
professor of voice and director of opera at the University of Kentucky
This isn’t the first time McCorvey has been to St.
Louis, having served as master clinician at the Opera Theatre of St.
Louis with its Artist in Training program. However, this will be the
first time the American Spiritual Ensemble will have performed at the
cathedral basilica, as part of the group’s multi-city winter tour. While
in St. Louis, the group also will present a master class with students
in the Jennings School District, working with Thedford of the Gospel
“St. Louis has such a wonderful, rich tradition
in vocal music, opera and voice, and we are excited about that,” said
McCorvey, speaking from a rehearsal in New York.
described the ensemble as having a “full, rich sound,” which was
influenced by visiting choirs he heard during the civil rights movement
of the 1960s, growing up in Montgomery, Ala. With his training in opera,
McCorvey engages members of the ensemble to create what he described as
“a very unique sound, with a full voice.”
The ensemble, he said,
preserves the tradition of the “pure voice” found in the original Negro
spirituals. “I grew up on spirituals — the folk songs of the slaves,
that tell the story of our heritage,” he said. “These songs were born in
this country during slavery, but they are for everyone now.”
spirituals that the ensemble sings are arrangements of some of these
original simple melodies, either in a capella style or with piano, for
example. “But no drums or amplification — just pure voice,” he said. “We
are working to preserve the tradition of a capella and simple melodies
and beautiful arrangements and beautiful voices.”
>>Joyful Jubilee concert series
presents “Joyous Jubilee: Music to Lift the Soul,” three evenings of
sacred, spiritual and Gospel music. All performances are on Friday
evenings, beginning at 8 p.m., at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis,
Lindell Boulevard and Newstead Avenue.
• Friday, Jan. 18: An evening of contemporary gospel music featuring the North City Deanery Choir. The concert is free and open to the public;
• Friday, Jan. 25: An evening of sacred music featuring Dello Thedford and the Gospel Symphonic Choir. The concert is free and open to the public.
• Friday, Feb. 1: An
evening with American Spiritual Ensemble. Tickets are $19, $29 and $42.
(Use code jubilee for a 50 percent discount.) Group rates are
available. For more information, call (314) 533-7662 or visit cathedralconcerts.org.