Each year, a church in our community hosts a community wide Thanksgiving celebration. This is normally done the Sunday afternoon before Thanksgiving which was November 18th this year. Different churches in the community host the celebration each year, and this year it just happened to be at Baptist Grove Baptist Church in Fuquay-Varina which is my home church.
The program started with five preachers who all have a church in the community. They varied from short sermons to one telling what they were thankful for and inviting the congregation to chime in. After all the speakers had spoken, Harnett Central High School Vocal Ensemble provided the congregation with a concert.
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Here’s a little background information about Harnett Central Vocal Ensemble. Harnett Central Vocal Ensemble is led by Mr. Devin Hocutt. Choirs usually sing in four parts. The parts are soprano, alto, tenor and bass. (https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Choir_(music)
They are well known in our community. In 2015, they were the winners of the MIX 101.5 WRAL-FM Christmas Choir Competition. The vocal ensemble performed “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and received $5,000.00 in prize money. The group used the money to help pay for a trip to perform at Carnegie Hall in New York. To a choral group, and especially a high school choral group, being invited to Carnegie Hall is a big-deal.
During their performance, they performed four songs which were, Seal Lullaby, Operator, Sing Me to Heaven,’ and John the Revelator. Mr. Hocutt played a baby grand piano while one of the female students, who is a senior, led the group. Some songs were sang A Cappella which Mr. Hocutt led.
The Seal Lullaby is in the form of a lullaby for mixed choir and accompaniment of Rudyard Kipling’s story, The White Seal. (https://www.classicfm.com/composers/whitacre/music/seal-lullaby/)
The first verse opened with a female singing a soprano melody singing the baby to sleep. The same combination of regular rhythmic pulses with sudden tiny swells continued in the second verse as the men joined in as the performance got louder. Voices changed into textless vocalization. The third verse was sung in the same way with calming melodies, but the song suddenly changed with sharp syncopations of the waves which were unexpected which threw the whole song offbeat to me. The lullaby moved into what should be a conventional major cadence, but the harmony still seemed unsettled and off. It was not my favorite song of the concert; however, the ensemble did a fabulous job performing it.
Operator was by far my favorite performance of the night. It’s a 1972 single written and recorded by Jim Croce. It was released August 23, 1972 and was the second single released from his album You Don’t Mess Around with Jim. It reached #17 on the Billboard Hot 100 in December 1972 and spent twelve weeks on the chart. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operator_(That%27s_Not_the_Way_It_Feels)
The story is said to have been inspired during Croce’s military service where he saw lines of soldiers waiting to use the outdoor phone on base, many of them calling their wives or girlfriends to see if their ‘Dear John’ letter was true. (https://www.last.fm/music/Jim+Croce/_/Operator+(That%27s+Not+the+Way+It+Feels)/+wiki)
The song started out with a female student singing A Cappella in the opening verse. The second verse was sung by male students who sang a two-part harmony. During the chorus, all the students joined in a four-part harmony. At the end of the song, the congregation gave the group a standing ovation. It’s one of those songs that you have a hard time staying in your seat without wanting to get up and dance.
In 1991 composer Daniel E. Gawthrop burst upon the choral music scene with the publication of Sing Me to Heaven. It has become one of the most performed and recorded choral works in modern history. (https://www.dunstanhouse.com/sing-me-to-heaven/) Sing Me to Heaven could have a different interpretation for each person who listens to it. The Vocal Ensemble, both male and female, sang A Cappella in four-part harmony during the entire song. While the group was performing, I pictured someone singing to someone on their death bed as they took their last breath. I feel this would be a great song to be sung at a funeral. Musically it was filled with simple lines and simple dissonances.
The concert ended with John the Revelator which was very fitting for a church choral performance. John the Revelator is a traditional gospel blues call and response song written by Willie Johnson, who was a one the founders of blues music. (https://theblahblah.wordpress.com/2007/09/07/the-top-10-in-christian-blues-2-and-1/) John the Revelator follows the story of John of Patmos in his writing of the Book of Revelation. (https://aleteia.org/2018/11/05/an-incredible-piece-for-gospel-choir-john-the-revelator/)
The song was sung A Cappella and started out with a call of Who’s that writin, which was sung by the female members of the ensemble with a response of John the Revelator by the male members of the group. I felt like there was urgency to the song because of the call-and-response technique. Call and response is a musical form in which a melody is stated in a phrase that is then followed by a second phrase that completes the idea. The first phrase is presented like a question, prompting the second phrase which is the reply. (https://study.com/academy/lesson/call-response-in-music-definition-songs-examples.html) The voices and tempo made the song mesmerizing and almost scary to me.
I really enjoyed the concert mostly because I have an eclectic taste in music. I like listening to everything from pop, rock, country, rap, jazz, classical, and more. What type of music I listen to is dependent on what type of mood I’m in. It’s a known fact that music taste varies because we are all different. It is highly dependent on our experiences, emotions, the way we feel at the time, and most importantly our likes and dislikes. Music is a prominent feature of everyday life and nearly everywhere we go.
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