Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Gospel Christmas

A sea of red, a vocalized tsunami, an undulating mass, and the assertion that God is, indeed, in the house. That’s what I get each year when I’m lucky enough to attend the Atlanta Symphony’s Gospel Christmas Concert.

Although the orchestra gets first billing, make no mistake about who owns the night.

The Atlanta Gospel Choir is made up of about a hundred folks who can certainly belt out a tune, but it’s more than that. The term gestalt keeps coming to my mind as I consider the sum of all those very human parts. The great majority of the members are African American, with just a few pasty faces punctuating the throng. I’ve wondered just how talented a Caucasian has to be to infiltrate a group of dynamic singers who’ve undoubtedly been experiencing the mightiness of God’s Own Personal Music in their churches since they arrived that first Sunday as little babies tucked into their mothers' necks.

The city of Atlanta has a vast and powerful Black population, and why wouldn’t it, with its history and its strong connection to Dr. King. It’s long been a place where African Americans have come because they believe they can find a good and safe place for themselves and their families, a place they can call home. And that home has often revolved around church - and church means music.

Now, keep in mind that I'm the pastiest of pasty faces and I'm certainly not in the choir.  In addition, I'm pretty sure some of my black friends will tell me I'm being simplistic here and that not all African Americans are church-going choir members.

I know that, but this is my story so I get to say it the way I see it.  And the way I see it is that the sum of those singing parts in the Atlanta Gospel Choir is certainly greater than what it would appear to be at first glance.  Those people perform not only with superb talent and abundant energy, but also with an assuredness that could come only from some kind of big old belief in something even more important and lasting than standing up, en masse, and singing along with the Atlanta Symphony. 

And being enveloped in that belief and that authority for a couple of hours each December makes me want to believe too.


Friko said...

Thus is the power of suggestion!

OK, having said that I do actually know what you mean by saying it your way in this brilliant post. My d-i-l is black and a gospel singer and her whole personality is one of power and strength and a kind of independence that goes far beyond the one I in my middle class whiteness have. She has a certainty, the 'big old belief' that lets her stand proud and visible at times when I would cringe and hide away.

marciamayo said...

Yeah, my religion, such as it is, tends to be quite apologetic, never wanting to offend.

Anonymous said...

Maybe it's my Southern roots but Gospel Music is very special to me. It sends chills up and down my spine. I'm always impressed with the energy and the feeling of assuredness they project that there is something bigger and more important than they. Wish I was there to go with you. Mary B

cile said...

I envy you your audience and this musical experience. It sounds wonderful!

Arkansas Patti said...

Do envy your experience. I live in an all pasty community(was accidental, not intentional) and do miss the contageous spirit of an all black (with a few pasties thrown in) choir. Lucky you.

Olga said...

This sounds like a wonderful seasonal tradition. I like gospel music, but have never ecperienced it in person.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful blog. We have some pretty impressive choirs around here too. Several of my friends can really belt out a tune (not me, alas). Atlanta will have to compete with Washington DC as American's Chocolate City, although I have visited Dr. King's home in Atlanta and I know the neighborhood too, and it is as you say, more than OK.

Wisewebwoman said...

Me pasty with you Marcia.
I'll never ever forget a 30 person (all black)gospel choir that climbed on stage one night at Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto and joined the Chieftains and their music guests on stage and belted out this amazing Southern music to the backup of harps, whistles, fiddles and badhrans (small irish drums). goosebumps even thinking about it.
I wish I could have been in Atlanta with you!

Freda said...

Sounds brilliant; it's so nice to have special things to help make Christmas special. Because of where we live we mainly have to rely on TV, but to actually be there must be wonderful.

Vagabonde said...

I just read on your post that you went to eat at the Colonnade. That makes me happy because a couple of months ago, returning from Emory where my husband had tests, we stopped there and it was closed. Maybe it closes for lunch? Anyway I was afraid it had closed permanently.

I used to take my girls to the Pink Pig at Rich’s downtown. Riches made the best fruitcake cookies – the dough was white, kind of chewy. I have tried to find the recipe but could not duplicate them.

I have not been to the Atlanta Symphony’s Gospel Christmas Concert – that must be something to hear. I went a couple of times when they had the Atlanta Symphony Viennese Champagne Concert – that was elegant. I was in Paris, two years in a row, visiting my mother during the holidays and watched a Viennese Concert with dances – that is dancers in period costumes. It was beautiful. But I'll try to catch the Gospel Concert next year.

Jean said...

This gospel choir must be amazing/goose-bumpy to hear. Wow.

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