Monday, December 3, 2001
The healing sound of music Gospel choir has crowd stomping and swaying
By the time doors opened for the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir's 16th Annual Christmas Concert on Saturday, rain was coming down in torrents and emergency flood warnings had been posted.
None of this deterred retired investment executive Gary Kinkly and his wife, Robin. The couple drove more than four hours through the storm from their home in Graeagle (Plumas County) to see the choir perform.
"This is our sixth or seventh time," Kinkly said, standing in the theater's festively decorated lobby, where hundreds of concertgoers were shaking out their umbrellas, marveling at the weather and greeting friends. "We wouldn't have missed it. The spirituality, the mix of faiths -- it's a great show. And I think the interfaith message has a special resonance this year."
That message resonated through the auditorium when the choir's Rev. Jim Hooper opened the night's performance with a prayer for goodwill and a shout-out to the world's three largest monotheistic religions -- Islam, Judaism and Christianity -- during their shared holiday season.
But the 62-member interfaith choir encompasses more than just three religions. Since its founding in 1985, its members have included Buddhists, agnostics and a psychic minister. For many choir and audience members, this diversity is especially meaningful at the end of a year marked by violent cultural conflicts and religious extremism.
Tracy Lohman, a third-grade teacher from Richmond attending the concert with her sister Kelly, said she's drawn to the choir's spiritual music because "it goes beyond religious beliefs. And maybe more people are feeling a need for that these days. I know I do."
Backstage before the show, the Paramount's dressing rooms reverberated with singing and last-minute prep work.
Stage manager Russ Jennings, a peace-sign button proudly displayed on his lapel, directed singers like a beatific traffic cop. Members of the Youth Choir stampeded up and down the hallways. Sharon Henderson, who has been singing alto with the choir for five years, gave the gospel ballad "Marvelous" a final run-through with soprano Leona Clark.
"For me, tonight has added meaning because of the healing that music can bring, not just to this country, but to the entire world," Henderson said at the song's end.
"We may have more tears this year than usual, because we're healing from a great hurt. But it's a time for coming together around something we enjoy."
"Our motto is 'All faiths in harmony,' " added Oakland attorney and alto Patricia Bahia.
Raised in the Baha'i faith, she's been with the choir since its inception. "I hope that the vision of so many faiths coming together to sing will be inspirational. We can disagree, but we still love each other."
Love was definitely in the air nine songs into the night's program, when a spirited rendition of "Jesus, O What a Wonderful Child" brought the packed, multiethnic house to its feet for a show of swaying, shouting, hand-clapping unity.
If the joyous sound couldn't stop the rain hammering at the theater doors or exorcise the world's pains, it did provide a moment of rambunctious, life-affirming catharsis. And that, as the storm-defying Kinkly noted, is the whole point: "If you don't stomp your feet, work up a sweat and cry during this concert, you don't get it."
©Copyright 2001, San Francisco Chronicle Page D - 1