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Rise Up Singing

Churches, vocal ensemble offer a weekend of song

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You dig Gregorian chants? Or are renaissance madrigals more your thing?

Maybe foot-stompin', hand-clapping gospel gets your juices flowing.

Whatever your musical tradition, you can find an outlet this weekend, as two local church choirs, and the area's premier vocal chamber group, offer separate programs that will give kids and adults a closer understanding of the vocal arts.

The first concert, on Saturday afternoon, called the Mysterious Musical Machine, is a 600-year journey through musical history, from Gregorian chants (the first written forms of European music), right up to more experimental 20th century arrangements.

Aimed at younger listeners, the Mysterious Musical Machine is a light-hearted departure for a 25-member group that specializes in bringing some of the most rigorous vocal music to area stages.

On April 16, the ensemble performed a program that included works from four 20th century composers, including a 16-minute a cappella piece by Aaron Copland called "In the Beginning."

In this case, it's far less heady fare as eight members of the ensemble act out characters from different periods of European music. The concert begins when director Deborah Teske waves her baton before a motley choir and gets little more than jumbled cacophony in return as each singer croons in styles from his or her own period.

As Teske tries to make sense of the musical melee, we meet each of those diverse singers, from a medieval character (played by bass vocalist Jim Sena) who still thinks the world is flat, to a snobbish classical music afficianado (played by bass Andy Hasenyager) to a swooning, sighing and love-worn musician of the Romantic period (soprano Lori Bammesberger).

"The medieval character is very entertaining," said Teske with a chuckle. "He's completely overwhelmed by superstition. He thinks goblins live in the woods and that ships are falling off the edge of the world."

The magical mystery tour was the brain-child of David Sckolnik, a local arts promoter who shares the ensemble's mission of bringing more youngsters into the musical fold.

"Pretty much all arts organizations realize these days that they have to take responsibility for making sure audiences exist in the future," said Sckolnik, who does his own work building the fan base by teaching courses on classical music, and by hosting the weekly arts program "ArtSpeak" on KCME-FM.

The program wraps up with a Russian folk song, "Oy Polna Polna Korobushka" (How full is my basket?), as a way to bring home the very 21st century message of musical diversity.


Gospel roots

But if "Oy Polna Polna" doesn't get you out of your seat, then check out the weekend's next vocal extravaganza on Sunday night. Choirs from the area's premier African-American churches merge into one, 60-voice Alleluia machine for a two-hour concert at Colorado College's Shove Chapel.

"Shout Now! A Gospel Extravaganza" features choirs and vocalists from the Trinity and Friendship Baptist churches, who will likely rock the gothic, campus chapel right up to St. Peter's gate in a performance that also serves as a survey of gospel's history.

"The term "gospel" wasn't coined until the 1920s, but people often use the terms "gospel" and "spiritual" interchangeably," said Rochelle Mason, director of Minority Student Life for Colorado College and a member of Friendship Baptist Church.

The concert should help dispel such misunderstandings, as the choirs take the audience on an historical tour of gospel's roots, from the early spirituals of enslaved Africans, to the souped-up, electrified sounds of contemporary churches.

If you're like me -- raised Quaker or in some other, more quiet Protestant denomination -- you may want to also check out a three-hour workshop offered Saturday afternoon by members of both the Trinity and Friendship congregations.

The session will serve both as a primer to the uninitiated, as well as an in-depth, historical seminar. Featuring Adrian Fowler, the minister of music from Friendship Baptist Church, along with members of the Trinity Choir, the session will delve into gospel's roots in African musical forms to the development of blues, rap and other secular styles in the 19th century.

"There was a lot of cross-pollination with the blues, but gospel borrowed more from the blues," than vice-versa, said Mason. "In fact, there was a real outcry in black churches when they began including blues music in the services. People said it sounded like going to a gin joint. Now there's the same outcry as styles like rap are incorporated."

There won't be much rapping in Sunday night's performance, but there will be a brief tribute to Colorado Springs vice mayor Leon Young, to whom the evening's music is dedicated.

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