The spirited sound of gospel: Concert set for Saturday

Clovis High School choir director Chuck Tipton leads the gospel choir in “Praise His Holy Name” during rehearsal Wednesday at the high school. CNJ staff photo: Eric Kluth

By Eric Butler

Choir group members are used to singing a wide range of music.
Gospel music, however, is best known by singers in church choirs rather than school groups, so this Saturday may provide a unique experience for many vocalists in the area.
That’s when the Gospel Song Concert will take place at the Campus Union Ballroom on the campus of Eastern New Mexico University. The concert will wrap up a day of fine-tuning by the singers and conductor Barbara Baker, an internationally noted conductor and educator at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, Md.
Baker will be in Portales for a workshop on Saturday before she conducts the performance that night.
The singers will be a combined group from members of five organizations: the ENMU Chamber Singers, the ENMU University Singers, the Clovis High School Choral Groups, the Portales High School Choir and the honor choir from Lindsay Middle School in Portales.
Oscar Robinson, a member of the Portales Cultural Affairs Committee, said that he expects around 50 singers to be part of the workshop and concert. It may be higher than that, however, as Clovis High choir director Chuck Tipton said 45 of his students are planning on attending.
However many people end up being part of the event, Robinson believes that the singers will more fully appreciate gospel music when the day is done.
“The way the program is set up, what the singers will get out of it is working with a nationally known conductor of gospel music,” Robinson said.
“What they get out of it is what they put into it. They’ll get a chance to perform another form of music that is part of our American culture.
“Gospel is part of everybody’s community,” Robinson added. “They’ll have seven great songs that they’re going to sing and it should be an experience.”
The performance Saturday night is free to the public and will be preceded by a video presentation on black gospel music — a 35-minute historical perspective on this particular form of music, the subject of several textbooks by Baker.
Tipton said his students are enthusiastic about spending a Saturday exploring gospel music more in depth.
“They love it. We do two pieces like this every year because it’s fun and because it’s just good for them,” Tipton said. “These kinds of pieces are more relaxed, but they’re still harder to do because the range of the notes stretches the kids and there’s harmonies that our traditional ears are just not familiar with.”
The end of the day promises to bring not only the rich sounds of gospel music but the rewards of a long day’s work as well.
“We’re supposed to already know the notes before we come down,” Tipton said. “We’re going to have a three-hour rehearsal down there and I bet she (Baker) keeps us on the risers the whole time.”