On a bright sunny afternoon in mid August, the sanctuary at New Calvary Baptist Church, in Norfolk, was as bright and sunny with a spirit filled capacity audience, as the wonderful summer afternoon, as the Booker T. Alumni Choir held their “O Sing Your Songs” 2015 final concert for the 2014-2015 season. The following review of this outstanding concert, which is sponsored annually by the Booker T. class of 1958, was written by Keith Clark.
“This year’s annual concert by the Booker T. Washington Alumni Choir, its 21st, was especially poignant, as it was dedicated to Dr. Michael Smith – a member of the Booker T. Washington High School class of 1958 and the Chairman of the class’ Scholarship Committee. He departed this life earlier in the year. After a spirit-filled opening prayer by emcee Jack Johnson, the choir raised its voices in an annual event that has become a melodious rite of summer.
“O Sing Your Songs – 2015” showcased a rich array of musical modes, ranging from reverent, chorale-style anthems to soul-stirring gospel and inspirational praise-songs. The evening opened with the choir’s staple – the concert-titled hymn – followed by magisterial classical compositions such as “Hallelujah” and “Non Nobis, Domine.” That the choir performed these musically complex, demanding pieces with such facility – one in Latin, no less! – displayed months of rigorous practice and extraordinary levels of musicianship. “God Is Our Refuge and Strength” was stylistically rich and manifold – vocally multi-octave and multi-instrumental; that some audience members “got happy” with shouts of joy and praise at its conclusion was a testimony to song’s power. The choir closed out the first portion of the program with the standard “Let There Be Peace On Earth,” taking a well-worn number and infusing it with grace and warmth that the audience found truly uplifting. Afterwards, the winners of the annual “BTW Class of 1958 Scholarship” were announced, indicating the class’ abiding commitment to the education and uplift of African-American young people.
The program’s second half featured beautiful, exhilarating renditions of two staples of the sacred canon, “It Is Well with My Soul” and “Ride on King Jesus.” Then the choir cut loose, launching into “City Called Heaven,” “He Never Failed Me Yet,” “I’ll Trust You,” and “Let the Redeemed Say So” – the inspirited and inspiring soloists and choir members rousing the audience and eliciting claps and raised hands and raised bodies and hollers of “amen, hallelujah, and thank you Jesus” during and long after the numbers ended. These spirituals were so soulful and electrifying that it felt like an old school, tent revival meeting might break out at any moment.
Before the closing number, a touching – and humorous – tribute was paid to Directress Ann B. McInnis by the class of ‘58. She was so moved that she put her own vocal gift on display, gracing the audience with an impromptu, heartfelt rendition of “We Shall Behold Him.” While this was Ms. McInnis’s swan song at the helm of the choir, we certainly look forward to hearing her radiant voice as a member. The hymn of benediction, “Till We Gather Again,” allowed the choir and congregation to glorify in collective harmony. As we’ve come to expect, this year’s concert showcased the stratospheric heights the Booker T. Washington High School Alumni Choir scales, never disappointing and always gratifying those blessed to be in attendance.”
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