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October 10, 2008

Gospel competition: 'How Sweet the Sound'

San Francisco Chronicle (CA):

"Let your glory fill this place," Tina Landry tells the 15 singers in her Voices of ICC choir as she dictates harmony parts from memory to the soprano, alto and tenor sections. "Tenors, you've got to hit those bottoms," she commands, then adds her resonant contralto to the blend.

One of six Bay Area choirs participating in the "How Sweet the Sound" competition Friday night at the Oracle Arena, the Voices of ICC are awaiting word from the event's sponsor, Verizon Wireless, on which song they're going to perform. With only the beat of a tambourine augmenting their otherwise a cappella voices, they run through four possibilities during a Wednesday evening rehearsal at the temporary headquarters of their Independent Community Church in a former Mechanics Bank building on a stretch of largely abandoned storefronts in downtown Richmond.

The Fred Hammond composition "Glory to Glory to Glory" proves particularly tricky. The words "glory to" are repeated six times, followed by "God," which is broken into three syllables - "Gah-ah-od" - in rapid 16th notes. Landry has the singers repeat the line over and over, until all are rhythmically in sync.

Landry, daughter of church pastor the Rev. Tommy Bradford, is hoping her choir will win the $10,000 prize at Friday's concert, then go on to the national finals Nov. 8 in Atlanta, where the overall winner of the 11-city contest will receive $25,000. The money, she says, will be used to purchase chairs and carpets for the church's new building, currently under construction.

Rehearsal ends with a prayer led by choir member Parrish Foster. His grandfather, the late Paul Foster, was one of the most celebrated gospel quartet singers of all time, having spent seven years trading leads with Sam Cooke in the Soul Stirrers. Parrish remembers seeing his grandfather perform at a Soul Stirrers reunion 25 years ago at Noah's Gospel Chateau, a now-defunct Richmond gospel-music nightclub that was operated by the church. Throughout the 1980s, the club presented such major gospel attractions as Shirley Caesar, Rance Allen and the Winans and served no-alcohol fruit cocktails with names such as Jesus on the Rocks and Hallelujah Highball.

Although the Voices of ICC sing mostly modern gospel songs by such artists as Hammond, Donald Lawrence and Kirk Franklin, the male quartet tradition greatly informs their harmonies.

"It's ingrained in us," Landry says. "If you grow up on something, it's going to influence the way I present the music to the choir." Read more

Posted by acapnews at October 10, 2008 10:39 PM

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