Choir sings out with soul

Williams Gospel Choir convened for its 25th anniversary celebration, “The Reason Why We Sing,” on Saturday night in Goodrich. The hall’s lofty ceilings and stained glass provided the perfect backdrop for the choir’s uplifting, spiritual tone.
The concert, which included Gospel Choir members past and present, featured several alum performers. Aaron Jenkins ’03 emceed the event, rousing the audience from the start with his inviting tone. “Please call me AJ. I’m a graduate of Williams College in 2003, and guess what? They invited me back to be the emcee,” he intoned poetically. In his first few minutes onstage, Jenkins worked to create a friendly environment even before the choir sang. He instructed audience members to turn to those beside them and say, “Neighbor, I am happy to see you!”

After all the greetings and introductions were underway, Gospel Choir kicked off the approximately 90-minute performance with the song “Hallelujah, Salvation & Glory,” which featured Abbygail Dobson ’92, a professional vocalist, as soloist. Both Dobson and the choir’s rhythm were soft and steady but still packed power. The number closed on an impressive note by Dobson, one she held so long that its resonance rang out well after the music had ended and applause ensued.

The choir’s next number was much more lively, and the audience members responded accordingly, clapping and singing along and often abandoning their chairs as the choir sang and swayed with gusto to the beat of the musical accompanists and their own spirited vocals.
The singers’ enthusiasm particularly shone through with the song “Rain On Us.” Members of Gospel Choir called out powerfully and often stepped or danced in line, rejoicing to the music. The group’s energy was nothing short of infectious and never failed to raise a sizable portion of the audience to its feet.

Williams Christian Fellowship’s Worship Team took to the stage for part of the concert to perform “Mourning Into Dancing,” an inspirational number that used a beautiful a cappella introduction, followed by soft beats and a gentle tune to encourage listeners to be joyful.
Next came “My Liberty,” which featured individual performances by Alice Sady ’13 and Laura Dos Reis ’12 at the head of the choir. This performance was captivating; Sady hit the high notes perfectly, complimenting the elevated tempo of the piece, and Dos Reis’ contribution to the piece was vocally powerful.
The group transitioned seamlessly into “Unspeakable Joy” and “Call Him Up,” in which the choir members bobbed and clapped and rejoiced as one, only ever breaking off to allow each vocal section its moment in the sun. The individual sections – sopranos, altos and basses – each delivered their unique pitch, infusing the music with an artfully layered quality.
Exhausted but smiling at the end of those two numbers, Gospel Choir slowed things down and gave most of the stage to Jacque Magby ’12, co-director of Gospel Choir, who performed her own “So Good” with John Borden ’12, another co-director. “This is my testimonial,” Magby began before launching into an emotional musical verse.

Borden and Alyssa Barlis ’13 gave contrasting and complimentary solo performances in the following song, “In Pursuit of Your Glory.” While Barlis provided a delicate introduction to the song, Borden stirred in a heavier voice, speaking through song both to the audience members and to the choir onstage.
Another standout performance of the night was that undertaken by Marguerite Fererra ’14 and Michelle Cartagena ’89, in which the two women sang “You Are God Alone.” Their powerful, rolling inflection spiraled with the music, paralleling its quality in both volume and voice.
Gospel Choir closed its 25th anniversary concert with “High and Lifted Up,” in which the choir alternated steady rhythms with sudden punches of uplifting vocal power, and “Ride On,” an African-American spiritual that invited plenty of rhythmic stomping and clapping, as well as some clean breaks and artful bouts of silence, from the choir. During “High and Lifted Up,” Gabe Cervantes ’13, poised to become a co-director of the choir next year, demonstrated his talent for leading the group through every note.

And of course, the performance would not have been complete without the Gospel Choir members recognizing both its graduating seniors and its alumni. Yue-Yi Hwa ’11, Emily Yu ’11 and Magby were honored with bouquets of flowers, and all the alumni who “came to at least one rehearsal” were invited to join the choir onstage for “Right On,” the final number.

Throughout the night, Gospel Choir members and the emcee Jenkins were sure to forge a connection with their audience. Interaction was key, whether it was inviting crowd members to introduce themselves to those seated around them or encouraging everybody to stand up and clap along. And at one point, Jenkins even led the audience in a “tutorial” on different types of clapping used within gospel music performances, with double and single beats, faster and slower rhythms. But naturally, there was that one particular clap that said it all – applause at the close of every song.

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