Gospelfest Gathers Five Choirs in Song

This past Saturday, five different gospel choirs, including Phillips Academy’s own, filled Cochran Chapel with song and praise. This gathering of singers from the surrounding areas was Gospel Fest, a concert to benefit the Sojourner Truth Scholarship Fund. Named for the revolutionary African American woman who traveled around the United States as an abolitionist and women’s rights speaker in the 19th century, this fund was established in 1994 to support the education of “youth from every quarter.” On Saturday, the Phillips Academy Gospel Choir kicked off the concert. The Choir’s portion of the concert lasted a little more than 20 minutes and featured soloists from the student body. In addition, the choir featured two solos by Charlene Sadberry ’99. Her smooth, melodic tones swelled over the choir, mixing to make a full and rich sound. She was also a soloist in several other parts of the concert and was a definite highlight of the evening. Though not sizable in stature, Sadberry’s voice projected over the choir. The group following the Andover choir was the Joyful Voices of Inspiration. Led by Austin Marks, the group’s voices played off of each other in a strong collaboration. An interesting aspect of this performance was a choir performer’s use of sign language throughout the pieces. This added a unique visual aspect to the rich sound of the group itself. The New England Gospel Ensemble, directed by James Early, performed next. They had a relatively small size, with fewer than a dozen singers. A well-respected group in this area, this group sang a variety of pieces that kept the audience on their toes. Mixing slow songs with the more upbeat gospel music, several members of the audience got on their feet, clapped, and swayed along with the music, demonstrating its power. The group ended walking down the aisle of the chapel, still singing and clapping joyfully. After a few more solos from Sadberry, the group Just 4 Praise took the stage. This group sang songs off of their album, which they were selling at the end of the concert. A highlight of the performance was the first track of this CD, “Vessel.” This song combined both traditional and contemporary gospel styles. The beat of the chorus was reminiscent of traditional African music, while the verses had a more modern R&B tone. Just 4 Praise, a choir which has been together for 15 years, showed their experience and continuity in this performance. The final group to perform was the Boston Community Choir. They gave a shorter performance than the other groups as the night began to wind down. Although they sang only a few selections, the BCC’s voices came together for a short but sweet performance. The singers in this group worked well together to provide lush harmonies. Each note was deep and full. Each member of the group really looked as if there was nothing they would rather do than sing their hearts out. As the night ended, all members of the choir came up on the stage to sing a final song for the audience. Joined by a string quartet from Phillips Academy, the many voices echoed through Cochran Chapel. All five choirs combined, along with Charlene Sadberry, made the Gospelfest worth attending if it had not already been. The large crowd became involved in the final song, a rendition of “This Little Light of Mine.” They invited members of the audience to sing solos on the song. Several members of the audience joined them, and they, along with members from every choir, sang their own renditions of this well-known folk song. Although Gospelfest was mostly attended by faculty and parents, the students who attended were as much involved in the concert as the rest of the members of the audience. The two-and- a-half-hour concert proved to be a long but enjoyable performance for all in attendance, students, parents, members of the community, and teachers alike.