The Observer

Gospel choir brings passion to Harkness Chapel

David+Isitor+performing+at+Harkness+Chapel+with+Voices+of+Glory.
David Isitor performing at Harkness Chapel with Voices of Glory.

David Isitor performing at Harkness Chapel with Voices of Glory.

Dylan Rasmussen

Dylan Rasmussen

David Isitor performing at Harkness Chapel with Voices of Glory.

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The lights of Harkness Chapel reflected the sweat off singer David Isitors’ forehead at Voices of Glory’s (VOG) Come As You Are concert last Friday night. The musician tilted his head towards the sky, singing the gospel song “As The Deer.” His left hand lay outstretched toward the audience listening to Case Western Reserve University’s gospel choir. His right hand seemed tethered to the mic stand, the only thing keeping him grounded to the wood-paneled floor.

The show featured heavy crowd interaction, a staple of gospel music. Call and response vocals, where the lead singer croons a line of lyric that is followed by a line from the backing vocalists and audience, featured heavily throughout the performance. The entire 100-person crowd stood and clapped along to the music. The simple, repetitive lyrics of gospel music make it perfect for crowds to sing along to, while also giving singers freedom to stretch and toy with the melody.

VOG, founded in 1999, featured a diverse mix students and non-students. The ensemble had a stripped down approach, with fourth-year student Courtlen Oates playing piano, Cleveland State University student Dominick Wallace on drums and community member Chris Wallace on auxiliary percussion backing the seven vocalists.

Voices of Glory performed five songs, showcasing an impressive range from ballads, like the aforementioned “As the Deer,” to upbeat West African pieces like “Mma Mma Imela.”  The choice of a West African piece was partially due to Choir Director Folarin Fowora’s Nigerian roots. Fowora said second-year student and VOG President Jamila McKenzie approached him about becoming a director, since the two went to the same church.

“I was part of a choir in high school and college, and these choir members were like family for me we all grew spiritually and vocally,” Fowora said. “So I was looking for something like that here. I had been in the United States for two years I had never really had that.”

The choir itself had little rehearsal time with the backing musicians, practicing with Oates only one time and never with two percussionists. Incredibly, the lack of rehearsal time had little impact on the performance, since the band and choir had great chemistry.

The songs focused on the feeling of being empowered by one’s faith. “Praise Him in Advance” featured McKenzie singing about celebrating and having fun despite life’s problems with the knowledge it will get better soon.

After VOG’s performance, the Jesus House Cleveland (JHC) Choir performed. The two groups are very close-knit, as McKenzie, Fowora and Isitors each attend the church. The JHC Choir is much more experienced than VOG, and placed a greater emphasis on up-tempo songs. The choir kept things loose by freely dancing and moving, creating a festive atmosphere. Most of the crowd responded to this positively by standing up.

“As a choir director, you have got to understand the people you lead. You have to be sensitive,” said JHC Choir Director Jimmy Olulami. “When we come to the House, we try to understand how everybody is feeling at every rehearsal. I try to sense everybody and see how they are feeling that day and see if they’re ready to be productive.”

He added, “If everyone can see each other as a family, it makes the work easier.”

The JHC Choir showcased its tremendous ability to move the crowd with soft songs as well. During the ballad “Your Spirit,” one of the singers cried as the choir sang and swayed to the music, the golden pipes of Harkness behind them.  

The two groups concluded with a joint performance in which VOG adopted the JHC Choir’s loose style, as singers danced around the stage while trading lead vocal duties.

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Gospel choir brings passion to Harkness Chapel