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.