The hot sun beats down on his bare back, baking the red clay dirt under his feet; muscles sore from long hours of hard labor as he toils picking cotton…. Feelings of despair press upon him. He cries out to God in desperation, “Lord please hear my prayer! Lord, didn’t You deliver Daniel from the lions? Why not every man?” His sister picking cotton in the next row senses his desperation and discouragement and begins to quietly sing “Oh my brother hold on just hold on!” One after another, his fellow slaves pick up the refrain until the whole field is singing “walk together children, don’t you get weary!” Song is the one thing that can’t be taken from them. The one thing they have left. As they sing, the music slowly breathes strength into their desperate and weary souls. These are their songs.1
These words, written by The Acclamation Chorale director Graham Lichti, set the tone for the chorale’s first album “I’m Gonna Sing.” The album is comprised solely of spirituals, many arranged by famous composer and arranger Moses Hogan. These songs of hope, born out of the hardship and despair of an oppressed people, point listeners toward the One who can carry us through any valley.
I’ll be honest. I’m not a top candidate for Choral Critic of the Year. While I enjoy singing in choirs, I don’t really listen to choral music for fun. This is actually the first choral CD I’ve ever owned, and I only own it because I got a free copy for doing this review. So please bear in mind that these are just the opinions of a regular kid.
Like most people, I’ve always enjoyed spirituals. It’s hard to resist the melancholy yet upbeat feel of these soulful songs. But I’m often critical, probably unfairly so, of Mennonites singing spirituals. It’s just that changing the pronunciation of “the” to “de” and “Lord” to “Lawd” doesn’t equal soul. So I was a little hesitant about an entire choral album of spirituals. But The Acclamation Chorale came through for me. Sometimes they do sound like Mennonites singing spirituals, but they sound like Mennonites with some soul singing spirituals. Now that I can handle.
I actually really enjoyed this CD. There are a lot of solos – I think seven of the sixteen songs include at least one soloist, many have several soloists – which keep things interesting. There is a nice variation in the style of songs which kept me from getting bored after four songs. The sopranos also provide interest with some unexpected, shocking notes. Especially shocking when you’re listening to the CD for the first time at 6:00 a.m. while driving to work. I didn’t have to fight sleep that morning.
As an alto, I’m often annoyed by high sopranos. Or low sopranos. Sopranos in general, I suppose. But these sopranos didn’t annoy me as much as I expected. I actually found myself respecting and enjoying them. So good job sopranos. The other parts sounded good, too. To everyone’s disappointment, I’m sure, I’m not knowledgeable enough to point out the merits of each specific part, so I’ll just say that my ears enjoyed them all.
One of the coolest things about this CD is the story behind it. The Acclamation Choral, made up of singers from the U.S. and Canada, was formed as a way to “put spirit back into our worship in a choral setting” and to fund a coffee shop ministry in Southern Ontario that would “provide financial assistance for those wanting to adopt.” 1 If you buy this CD, not only are you giving yourself a musical treat, you are also helping support this vision and ministry.
If you want to purchase this CD, hard copy or digital download, or learn more about the choir and the ministry, visit their website www.theacclamationchorale.com. You can find loads of interesting information as well as photos and videos of the choir performing some of the songs on the album. That way you can get a good look at everyone and see if you know any of them. But don’t do anything stupid like downloading the songs off of YouTube instead of buying the CD.
But seriously, buy this CD, I definitely recommend it. It’s not just for highbrow music majors or middle-aged Mennonite folks. I am neither and I enjoyed it. I listened to it on repeat for about a week to prepare for this review and I still enjoy it. In fact, I’m enjoying it as I write these words. I think you’ll enjoy it, too.
|Carmen Yoder lives in New Paris, Indiana. She works part-time at a cafe, where she enjoys making messes (which she cleans) and chatting with “the regulars.” Her spare time is usually spent reading, entertaining her siblings, adventuring, drinking coffee, or criticizing [she means proofreading] Radi-Call articles. She loves beauty, especially that of God’s creation, different cultures, fellowship, music, and laughter. She desires to live life to the fullest and serve God in any way He calls her.|
1. Graham Lichti. “From the Director.” I’m Gonna Sing. The Acclamation Chorale. 2017.