When Chantel Renee Wright entered the green room at the Rockport Opera House, her voice was noticeably fatigued and raspy. That didn't stop the musician/professor/pentecostal preacher from gaining the instant attention of the 26 young singers traveling with the Songs of Solomon Gospel Choir, who immediately gathered and began their vocal warm-ups. The weather was bitterly cold, with the first real storm of the season quickly approaching. "My feet have been cold for two days", Wright told the group. "Listen to my voice- it's clearly not at its best. But when I enter the room above us, I will bring no excuses. You must also come without excuses".
In the green room, only those in the front row were rehearsing this piece, but the others paid full attention. The group was highly disciplined, with the older members clearly taking on leadership and supportive roles. At the same time, there was a sense that the choir was like a big family, with lots of humor, faith and love shared.
One of the soloists in rehearsal. The choir has an established repertoire, but conductor Wright makes most of the specific song choices from the stage as the individual performance evolves.
A sense of physical and spiritual energy grew with each part of the program. The conductor and the singers moved around the house and interacted with the audience, encouraging participation and response. Every eye, literally, is on the director program notes: "Wright is a firm believer that arts education stimulates children spiritually and intellectually, builds the family through its commitment to a child's development, and gives a sense of pride and ownership to the community".
Manuel Bagorro, the artistic director of Bay Chamber Concerts and Summer Festival, takes on the challenge of maintaining the well-respected Bay Chamber Concert musical traditions while also bringing in new experiences, with appeal to new audiences. As a native of Zimbabwe with extensive experience in visual and performing arts around the world, he brings a valuable sense of perspective to the community.
"We don't look much alike, do we?" Wright said during her opening comments to the audience. No, we don't. And for a group who is used to participatory audiences who sing and clap and dance from the opening moments to the last notes, it must feel like alot more work to perform here in coastal Maine. But there was no stopping the energy, as you can see above. In the green room, before the performance, Wright had more to say to the choir after the warm-ups, with or without her full voice.
"If you enter the room with fears or allow yourself to be distracted, you deprive the people in the audience from having a transformational experience. Some of these people have never heard a group like ours and some may never see us again. You have something to offer. Give them these moments".
Local friends, she was talking about us. The choir members brought everything they had to the stage. Wright's voice sounded clear and strong, and I am sure her feet were plenty warm. Yes, there were differences in culture and beliefs and ethnicity, but music and spirit united us. Thanks Songs of Solomon for sharing your gifts.
More photos: marti stone photography
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