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Spirit Fest 2014

By Donald Barnes
Special to the Michigan Citizen

DETROIT — The 2014 Spiritual Festival, Jan. 23-25, was an annual three-day event hosted by the United Voices of Detroit Choir at Bushnell Congregational Church on the city’s west side. Choirs performed Negro spirituals in the divisions of high school, college and adult. They competed against one another in front of judges on how well they interpreted the meaning of the music.

Negro spirituals are performed by choirs of all ethnicities worldwide. They originated during slavery and were used as a way of communication. “They were used to … express their emotional feelings about the conditions they were living under,” said Nina Scott director of choral music at Renaissance High School. Those who were enslaved also used spirituals to send “messages from plantation to plantation. If Harriet Tubman were coming into the vicinity … they would sing. ‘Go Down Moses’ was used to announce she was on her way. They (used to sing) ‘Down by the Riverside’ to indicate that the meeting would be on the river.”

World-renowned choral composer and Detroit native Dr. Robert A. Harris served as a judge for the event. His works have been performed all over the U.S., South Africa and many countries in Europe. He says he enjoyed the sound the choirs offered. “This younger generation is learning more about spirituals. There was a time, years ago, when they were meaningful to the older generation and the kids coming along who were involved in the gospel tradition didn’t adhere to spirituals,” Dr. Harris told the Michigan Citizen.

“All the choirs did a nice job,” said Harris, “but there were certain choirs that were just outstanding. The quality of the singing was good, there’s got to be an understanding on how to create beautiful sound that’s appropriate for a choir. It’s not a matter of singing the right notes at the right time, it’s about singing the meaning of the piece.”

Church/Community Group:
1st place — Y Arts Deep River Choir (director, Bobbie Thompson)
2nd place — Central United Methodist Church Ensemble (director, Nina Scott)

High School:
1st place — DSA (director, Cheryl Valentine)
2nd place — Cass Tech (director, Dr. Cheryl Harden)

1st place — Southwestern Michigan College Select Singers (director, David Carew)

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