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Gospel Extravaganza leaves some in tears

By Michael Sitzman

Section: Arts

April 8, 2005

Good news! You passed your midterm. Good news! She said yes. Good news! Your dad made it through surgery;

hes going to be fine.

How did you feel when you last heard really good news? Try to remember. Dont even try to describe;

just feel it. Now how about this:

Good news! You are saved.

As a writer, there are times when I cannot put a place, a moment, into words that truly fit. Such is my inadequacy trying to make you feel the power of last Sundays Gospel Extravaganza concert in Sherman Function Hall, sponsored by BBSO, ICC, Brandeis Christian Fellowship, and Student Events. It was an experience that brought all to their feet and many to tears.

Lifelong believer or first-timer from a different faith, it doesnt matter: The soul is moved. The very Earth seems to tremble. What music could so stir human beings?

It would have been a beautiful Sunday even without the concert. The light streamed through the doorways, and the feeling of relief from the recent rainstorm had Brandeis stepping just a bit lighter that day. And then, the magic. Our very own Gospel choir, Voices of Praise, came down the aisle toward the front, belting out joy and energy straight away. Among their songs was one aptly named: The Storm is Passing Over. Nobody had to be asked to stand, clap their hands, nor raise and sway them in the air;

it would have been like being asked to breathe. In the subject of sheer joy, this was to be the intensive-level course.

How can happiness come from singing about a storm, a metaphor for hardship? Who could be so optimistic that suffering might be something to smile about? How could fear spark rejoicing? I thought about it as I listened. I should have been simply listening

Voices of Praise is a Brandeis gem, a testament to transcendence itself: Crossing boundaries, shedding burdens of inhibition, reaching for that which is higher in ourselves. Our own friends, from so many different ethnic and faith traditions, unite in song and, at least for a brief time, become the essential believer, knowing that the magic of Gospel in its purest form doesnt depend on religious belief. On Sunday they sang. I felt faith. It so happens that Ive got a few storms now passing over me, yet for a while only the sun shone.

The Regis College Gospel Choir followed with more selections referring to storms. Dressed in snow-white blouses, their vocal power filled the hall without difficulty. Among their most memorable moments was when Heidi Gomez delivered a beautiful solo. The Rev. Dr. Alice Brown-Collins, Brandeis Interim Protestant Chaplain, followed with some words of praise and thanks.

Gospel, or Godspell, is an Anglo-Saxon word, and means glad tidings, referring to the good news that Christ had come to deliver humankind from sin. Steeped in African-American tradition, Gospel music draws its emotional power from ideas that are hallmarks of the many variations of Christianity. They spring from an awareness of history, and how some good has emerged from the worst of trials: The long journey of the Israelites which brought them to the Promised Land;

the sacrifice of Jesus which led to humanitys Salvation;

the African-American experience of bondage that yielded to the long climb toward equality and dignity.

The third choir to sing was the Boston College Voices of Imani, named for the Swahili word for faith. Their multi-colored, solid dress was a human stained-glass window that lent a familiar church-like image that mixed with music. It was just another level of harmony. To me, their most powerful words were, He knows how much we can bear.

With such unwavering confidence in the Divine, and the belief that He will show equal steadfastness toward us, who that feels saved cannot feel joy? This is not nave optimism;

it is the core gift that Christianity brings to the world. On Sunday the gift was proclaimed in Gospel. It was a wave, serenity and ecstacy in music. It washed over us lovingly. It cleansed. It was loud, it was overwhelming;

and quietly, ever so reassuringly, it whispered a message. And the message was

Good news.

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