Recently, through Facebook, a member of the MCCNY congregation issued a challenge to the 11 am choir: “Earth, Wind and Fire this Sunday?!?!?!” Prompted by the death of the great Maurice White, the founder of Earth, Wind and Fire, this helpful (and completely lovely) church member even suggested the song for us: “Fantasy”. It was late Friday afternoon, a day and a half before Sunday morning services.
Challenges like this are the things that make me love my job. Here is my chance to work with a team of singers and musicians so wonderfully diverse in their talents - and so fearless about trying new things - that we never get bored. Our rehearsals are short and intense: from 10-11 am on Sundays (8:15-9 for the 9 am choir), and that’s about it. We do our best to reflect the radically inclusive message of this church, that God works for good in all things –all languages, all instruments, all vocal types, and all genres of music.
We are often at our best under pressure. On February 7th of this year, we sang “Fantasy”, four days after the passing of Maurice White. The song is complicated, and we focused hard as we sang, “Our voices will ring together / Until the twelfth of never / We all will live love forever, as one….”
Wow, how do they change their clothes in the middle of the song like that? The visuals are actually two performances merged into one, the first on Feb 7th and the encore on Easter Sunday.
I was taught early that there is a secular/sacred divide in music, but I’ve never been able to accept that. Music is (mostly) all good, and when it isn’t quite right, well, a little re-write never hurt anybody. We’ve performed Prince and Pachelbel, Gospel music and salsa, rock, punk, Bach, jazz, Radiohead, musical theater, 70’s soul, spirituals, hymns, masses and hip-hop. We sing in English, Latin, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Russian (a little), Arabic (ok, one of us does), and Icelandic (another one of us), and we’re always learning more.
|My first experience leading the choir at the morning service was a total bomb. It was October of 2001, a challenging time to choose music for a New York City church service. I opted for a hymn, something simple and direct, and apparently familiar to me and me alone. I had recently become the music director for the evening service, and was working to build a small choir from scratch there. For the evening service I was able to enlist the help of my friend Carolyn Traore, and things were growing, but the choir at the morning service was already established, and used to someone else. After Carolyn started singing with the morning choir and I began selecting repertoire that was a better fit for the choir at the time, things changed. Our first hit was “On That Holy Mountain”, in December of 2011.