Thursday, 23 March 2017

GOSPEL SPOTLIGHT: Univ. of Arkansas Inspirational Chorale raise the roof with captivating harmonies

VOICES IN PRAISE: The visiting UoA Chorale during the NCU leg of their concert tour.

WHO knew “And He Shall Purify” from Handel’s Messiah could work with a jazzy, gospel-infused treatment? The University of Arkansas Inspirational Chorale, currently on a week-long concert tour of Jamaica, proved that with a little innovation and clever arrangement, even the most celebrated classical work can be given a rousing contemporary spin.

That said, what the choir served up was a winningly melodious take, dubbed a soulful celebration of Handel’s magnum opus, one of the many highlights during their kick-off concert, which drew a standing ovation at the University Chapel, Mona Campus, on Sunday evening.

Under the direction of Dr. Jeffrey Murdock, the 75-voice choir (30 students made the trip) is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year and decided to make their Jamaica and Caribbean debut with this much-welcomed concert tour, scheduled to make stops at NCU, The St. Andrew Parish Church and the Hope Zoo, under the auspices of the UWI Alumni Association.

In a nutshell, the choir (a diverse mix of Black, Asian and White choristers), specializing in “Black sacred music,” puts on quite a show, offering tunes (gospel anthems, spiritual gems) laced with tight harmonies and all-around flavourful singing. It’s the kind of choir you want to lead your Sunday morning worship and give a mini concert every week.

After opening the show with a hand-clapping, toe-tapping version of “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Saviour,” the black-and-white clad troupe slowed down the tempo with beautifully rendered acapella treatments of “Blessed Assurance”, “Take It To The Lord in Prayer “and the Noel Dexter-arranged “O’er Blue Mountain”, with commanding solo work by Canadian tenor and teacher Dr. Christopher McRae.

“I hope we Americans do it justice,” Murdock quipped ahead of their rendition of Dexter’s popular “Psalm 150”, a highly commendable effort, performed just before “And He Shall Purify”, a great showcase for the soprano line, brought the curtains down on Part One.

Mona’s University Chorale, sporting light green and black ensembles, was the evening’s supporting act, opening Part Two with a quartet of sublime spirituals (Dexter’s “Psalm 24” and “The Magnificat”, “They Crucified My Lord” and “Beulah Lan’”), which fit perfectly into the two-hour programme and was met with resounding applause. 

Taking the floor again, for the second half, the Arkansas Chorale wasted little time, reconnecting with their beautifully resonant song selections. While the soothing strains of “My Soul’s Been Anchored”, “Under His Wings” and “I Can Tell the World” echoed at all the right moments, with “Even Me Lord” they delivered captivating, altar-call stuff. 

“Joyful Joyful”, meanwhile, was a jubilant explosion of energy and harmony, but they saved the absolute best for last with a powerful, soul-stirring rendition of the Richard Smallwood/Brooklyn Tabernacle classic “Total Praise”, which sent the audience home on a magical high.

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