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Lift Every Voice and Sing

Gospel Choir invited to New Orleans Jazz Fest

Reginald Heber wrote the words for "Holy, Holy, Holy" in 1826, while he was vicar of Hodnet, in Shropshire, England. In 1861, John B. Dykes, soon to become vicar of St. Oswald's, Durham, gave it the tune found in hymnals to this day.

Dartmouth Gospel Choir
The Dartmouth Gospel Choir pulls out all the stops in rehearsal for its performance at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. The choir was one of two college groups from outside Louisiana invited to perform.
Dartmouth Gospel Choir
Gospel Choir Director Walt Cunningham plays powerhouse piano with his right hand while conducting a dynamic swell with his left. (Photos by Kawakahi Kaeo Amina '09)

The Dartmouth Gospel Choir appeared to be following tradition in its treatment of the 19th century hymn, as choir members sang the opening phrases in the kind of four-part harmony and pear-shaped tones that would befit a group of Anglican choir boys. Seconds later, however, the guise was dropped, and the group surged forward into their own arrangement, replete with the swells, soaring melismas, and levitating rhythms that are the heart of gospel music.

The choir sang the hymn as part of an open rehearsal in Alumni Hall for its performance April 28 at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. While in The Big Easy, choir members also took part in a Hurricane Katrina-related community service project, sang in church, and performed for high school students.

One of only two college groups from outside Louisiana to perform at the festival, the choir was attractive to festival organizers because of the quality of its sound and the diversity of its music, says Director Walter Cunningham, who accompanies the group on keyboard and writes many of the arrangements.

"The students have worked very hard over the last few years to achieve the level of talent required to receive such a prestigious invitation," says Cunningham. "We are especially grateful and excited by the opportunity to assist in hurricane relief efforts and to share our message of faith, love, and inspiration with the Jazz Fest audiences."

The 60-plus-member choir is composed of Dartmouth students, Upper Valley community members, and about 20 musicians and singers who sing in Cunningham's Chicago-based gospel group, One Accord. Cunningham resides part-time in Chicago.

Founded in 1970, the annual Jazz Fest draws tens of thousands to New Orleans for two weekends of music in such traditions as gospel, jazz, Cajun, zydeco, blues, R&B, rock, funk, African, Latin, and Caribbean.

The Dartmouth Gospel Choir has been reborn under Cunningham's leadership, says Joshua Price Kol '93, director of student performance programs at the Hopkins Center. "Everywhere they go to perform, audiences are wowed by their artistry."

This combination of music and mission is true to the choir's purpose, says Dean of Student Life Holly Sateia. "The gospel choir is unique in the sense that its members not only care about the performances they give but also about supporting the communities in which they perform."

By REBECCA BAILEY

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Last Updated: 5/30/08