Masterworks concert brings old spirituals to the fore

February 21, 2014 / by / 0 Comment

Review by Doug Carroll
GCU News Bureau

Whether by choice or by chance, Black History Month received fitting recognition Thursday night from three Grand Canyon University choirs in their Masterworks II concert.

The Canyon Chorale, Canyon Singers and New Life Singers all performed at First Southern Baptist Church, adjacent to campus, and each choir drew from the rich canon of Negro spirituals.

The 30-member Canyon Singers, the best voices in GCU’s music program, closed their segment of the concert with three such selections: “Hold Out Your Light,” “This Little Light of Mine” and “Hold On!” The third of those is literally about keeping one’s hand on the plow, but its deeper meaning concerns waiting patiently for freedom. The Singers opened the evening with a jazzy, Caribbean-styled “Kyrie Eleison” that was helped by a three-piece percussion ensemble and veteran pianist Mark Fearey. Under the direction of Dr. Sheila Corley, the Singers have come into their own in the past year, mastering the nuances of some difficult material.

The 70-voice Chorale, directed by Assistant Dean Juan Hernandez, also finished with arrangements of three spirituals: “Ride the Chariot,” “Deep River” and “Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel?” But the highlight may have been its moving rendition of “Give Me Jesus,” which preceded those three. If you had heard only this beautiful number from the 90 minutes of music, it would have been sufficient to proclaim the concert a success.

Hernandez has assumed direction of New Life in the wake of Gabe Salazar‘s departure from the University and has steered the pop ensemble toward more traditional choral fare. The spiritual “My Soul’s Been Anchored in the Lord,” which was performed at the first Masterworks concert back in October, was revived for this occasion. Other highlights were “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” and “I Surrender All.”

Although the year has been challenging for New Life, it released a well-received album, “Captivate,” in September and survived a packed calendar of appearances in the first semester. Kudos to its 16 members — and particularly to student leaders Aaron Walth and Jonelle Borowy — for honoring their commitment and performing with such a high degree of professionalism.

The second Masterworks concert normally is preceded by the choirs’ opera and Broadway concert, but they have been flipped in order this year. The opera and Broadway concert, scheduled for April 15, will be preceded by what should be the highlight of the 2013-14 choral season: Brahms’ “German Requiem” at 7 p.m. on March 11 at the church.

Contact Doug Carroll at 639.8011 or [email protected].

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