Songs of Zion in four sections
On Sunday, the Jamaica Youth Chorale's fine show at the Mona Chapel, University of the West Indies (UWI), boasted songs from different continents. The young vocalists had their audience laughing at times, sometimes spellbound, at times rocking and clapping to upbeat songs, and other times just singing along.
Despite the engaging showmanship, it was not the recital's accustomed time of year.
"It was difficult. It was really a challenge moving out of February. Everybody was prepared for then ... Now it is exam time, so it is not the ideal time for us," the chorale's conductor, Greg Simms, told The Gleaner.
"Our annual show is a Black History Month celebration in February. This year, we had an election and, as they say, never waste a good crisis. So we went to the drawing board and saw how we could restructure the programme."
Most of the chorale's members are students, like Aldean Williams, who had his first examination on Wednesday.
He admitted the rescheduling caused challenges, but the chorale's members were able to overcome them, mainly due to their dedication. "We carried our books and laptops to study during rehearsals," he said. This was encouraged by Simms.
Songs of Zion
Thus came the inaugural staging of Songs of Zion. Simms explained that it "really is an expansion into different genres and styles and a recital that explores in an eclectic way all sorts of music, not only just spirituals as would happen in previous shows. We delved into classical, songs from musicals, all expressing an idea of hope - Zion beauty."
The programme was divided thematically, beginning with 'Guided by Faith'. The last of its four songs, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, had the chapel's walls echoing the audience's response.
The singers delivered more beauty of Zion in the second section, titled 'Feel the Spirit'. The black-and-gold clad chorale had the audience rocking to the uptempo The Battle of Jericho, arranged by Moses Hogan, and Rock Upon Jesus, arranged by C.S. Walters, which had a memorable, beautiful ending.
The 'Freedom' section offered interest and intrigue. Doing Letta Mbulu's Hareje, arranged by Kathy Brown, the group entered in fine style to stand in front of the audience. It was followed by the intriguing Bound. Interestingly, the lyrics included poetry excerpts - Dennis Scott's Epitaph and Claude McKay's The Lynching - with additional lyrics by chorale member Hanif Lawrence. The section's last song, Fences, was well delivered.
Danielle Brown's emotive and controlled singing was memorable. With Kevaughn Prout on flute and her peers carrying the chorus, the soloist gave a splendid performance of Dolly Parton's Light of a Clear Morning.
In the 'Joy and Triumph' section, the Jamaica Youth Chorale came up with two doses of comedy. Gregg Simms' additional lyrics to Rodgers & Hammerstein's My Favourite Things (from The Sound of Music) and the all-male performance of Rain, arranged by Simms, provided the laughter. Fittingly, the fine recital came to an end with Reprisal Haraje (Celebration of the Harvest).