Gospel Sings Deval’s Praises

Mingling with the politicians, big shots, and campaign volunteers last Friday night were the members of the Phillips Academy Gospel Choir, invited to perform at a post-inaugural event for new Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick. The event, held at Merrimack College in North Andover, was one of six such events held around the state in an effort to increase community involvement awareness. Gov. Patrick, a Democrat, explained, “we ran a grassroots campaign not just as a strategy to win, but as a strategy to govern.” As part of these community outreach events, the inaugural committee invited over forty musical groups from around the state to perform. “The idea throughout the inaugural has been to use the talents of people living, learning, and working in Massachusetts,” said Co-Chair of the Inaugural Beverly Morgan-Welch. The committee organizing the event approached PA through the office of Associate Head of School Rebecca Sykes, and according to Instructor in Music William Thomas, “it was a perfect event for us.” As soon as the choir began singing, accompanied by ____ on keyboard and Gabriel Gonzalez, older brother of Joel ’09, on drums, a majority of the crowd turned their attention from conversation and mingling to the ensemble. They began with “Enter In,” a lively crowd-pleaser. For the next tune, soloists Meyer and Britney Achin ’08 stepped forward. They brought an intense energy and passion to “We Gather Together.” By this point, the pre-show jitters disappeared, and the choir sang with confidence. Next, gospel choir Co-Heads Akosua Oforiwaa-Ayim ’07 and Joel Gonzalez led “Great is Your Mercy.” The slow song provided a much different tone. They effortlessly segued into the jazzy, upbeat “Glory to, Glory to, Glory to.” Finally, the choir closed with the traditional “This Little Light of Mine,” a song that got a surprising number of the older audience members tapping their feet and singing. The choir’s sound was at times lost in the cavernous gym where the reception was held, but they nevertheless attracted, and more importantly held, the attention of a large portion of the audience. Other observers praised the Andover singers, the only student group of the three ensembles that performed. “It was fantastic,” said Marjorie Byers, an Andover resident. “I had seen them perform before at Phillips, but tonight they were really great.” The singers themselves had a great time, and recognized the magnitude of the event. Isabella Uria ’10 said, “I love singing, and its cool being in front of so many people. We did Kwanzaa before, and quite a few people came, but this is probably the biggest thing we’ve done [this year].” Unfortunately, the choir had to leave before Gov. Patrick arrived. Nevertheless, the performers were happy to represent PA at such a distinguished event. “I think it was very good for people to know what’s going on at PA and that we’re a very diverse community,” Gabriel Gonzalez said. As soon as Gov. Patrick discretely entered the room from a side door, the focus shifted from the professional jazz ensemble on stage to the charismatic new governor. Newspapermen and supporters mobbed him as his bodyguards slowly forced a path through the masses. Although the sheer magnitude of the guests and local dignitaries took center stage, it could not match the sincerity and enthusiasm of the gospel choir’s performance. As is typical in today’s hypersensitive society, the racial implications of having Massachusetts’ first African-American governor did not go unnoticed. Gov. Patrick recounted that at the previous night’s inaugural ball in Boston, a man came up to him and said it was “the most integrated environment he’d ever been in.” Nevertheless, audience members were quick to discount any racial motives towards inviting the PA Gospel Choir. “Race doesn’t mean anything,” said Anita Marshall of Andover. “It’s a mixed group.” Although, as one observer commented, “nothing at political events is real,” the PA contingent’s performance was, in this reporter’s eyes, the high point of an otherwise dull evening.