No one expects to have a spiritual awakening in a community college recital room, but the gospel choir brought church to campus.
Nervously shuffling onto the risers, the ominously clothed singers seemed an unlikely source of spiritual nirvana. After experiencing their eight-song repertoire, it was difficult to not convert.
Sounding like a theme song to a ‘70s sitcom, the gospel began with “I Smile” by Kirk Franklin. Their cheerful demeanor did not mask the off-key notes or the loose delivery of lyrics. At several moments notes fell apart and people sang out of turn. Nerves strained enthusiastic smiles and energetic clapping was dampened by a song that sounded unrehearsed. The song was so sub-par it felt like a sin to dislike them. Stepping down from the risers and away from her small sleeping dog, Tiffany Gilmore stepped up to the microphone with confidence. Once the opening piano notes began to roll, she transformed into a bold songstress with “Just a Close Walk.” Unprompted, the audience began to clap along. Her singing style seemed more fitting for a Baptist church in the deep South, not a recital room in Southern California. She paraded back and forth in a long black skirt and blouse with vigor, kicking her legs and clasping the microphone as she belted out the gospel. She ended the song with a vocal cry filled with pure, unadulterated soul. She sounded like a living Janis Joplin – if she had grown older and became a gospel singer.
Beginning a duet with “His Eye Is On the Sparrow,” Laisa Montalvo feebly stepped up to the microphone. Her voice was low and distant. She peered down at the floor like she wanted to be swallowed up. The gospel supervisor on the side stage randomly shouted out encouragements to excite Montalvo, but his attempts proved to be futile. Her voice was supple, but her hesitation made it nearly impossible to appreciate.
Angela Gavela-Sermeno joined in and gave the song a breath of fresh air. She was uplifting and confident – a stark contrast to the nervous Montalvo. She peered into the audience while she sang and showed her connection to the song.
Gospel supervisor Leonard Patton coerced the audience into singing. As he turned his attention on the audience, there was shifting in seats and quiet clearing of throats. He soon had the choir and audience going back and forth repeating the same verse from “I Smile.”
Slowly opening up, the audience soon sang to one another and clapped their hands as the spirit of gospel took hold of the crowd and ignited the room. Amen!
Shyly smiling as she shuffled to the microphone, Susana Gomez was an unexpected performer who surprised audience members. At a tempo that was fast-paced and full-spirited, audience members, still glowing from their participation, vigorously clapped and tapped their toes. Strong and spirited, Gomez powered through the song. Visions of church pews and robed singers seemed more fitting for the performance than cheap seats and a small room. Her rendition of “Long As I Got King Jesus” felt refreshing and brought a soundtrack to the sense of joy and spirit that filled the room.
Sincere and energetic, audience members, whether religious or not, sensed the spirit that filled the room. Feelings of closeness and joy saturated the atmosphere, despite a few sour notes.