The Wilmington Choral Society steps out of the box with music they haven't performed before--it's called I'm Gonna Sing and features the best-known and best-loved spirituals, including "Elijah Rocks," "Go Tell It on the Mountain," and "Ain-a That Good News." Soprano Denise Murchison Payton is the guest soloist.
The performance is Thursday, December 13th at 7:30pm at the Wilson Center in downtown Wilmington. Tickets are available online, by telephone at 910-362-7999, and at the door.
Listen to our conversation with Director Paula Brinkman and President Michael Mac above. Our extended conversation follows.
Gina: Paula, did you come up with the idea for this concert?
Paula: Yes ma'am.
Gina: Tell me about where your mind went and how you did this.
Paula: Oh, you know, I've, I've, I've loved spiritual since I started singing them, actually. I was introduced to spirituals in elementary school by my elementary music teacher, Mrs. Havens. And I've always loved them. And they have come out with some, as I was telling you, have come out with some really wonderful choral arrangements in years past and I tried to pick some very challenging but very fun to sing arrangements for this group. They're having a good time.
Gina: But Michael, you are not just Mr President, but you are also a singer in the choir.
Michael: I am a tenor. Yes.
Gina: Tell me about some of your favorite pieces in this concert.
Michael: Well, certainly, our grand finale, Elijah Rock, is a lot of fun. but you know, the program as a whole is very interesting for us. It's so unusual for us to sing this type of music. I've been with the chorus now four years and this is certainly a departure from anything we've done in that time. So, it's certainly interesting. The harmonies are a little bit different and certainly the timing and the dynamics are very, are very unique and I think that makes it challenging and interesting for the chorus to sing.
Gina: Are they, are they doing okay? I mean, do you have to beat them?
Michael: She beats us regularly, but it helps.
Paula: They're doing great. They really are. They really are. Again, it is a departure from our normal, you know, our normal repertoire. And you know, some, some phrasings are a little bit different, pronunciations are a little bit different and you know, it's taking a lot of concentration, but they're really managing it beautifully.
Gina: You know, Paula, I feel like you are always bringing something new to the table and bringing a new challenge to this group. Am I right Michael Mac?
Michael: Yes, definitely. I think she does it on purpose to, you know--
Paula: I do. Well, I think singers liked being challenged and they don't want to do the same, same old, same old. So I'm always trying to put something out there that's a little bit, a little bit different. And as matter of fact, on the way in this afternoon we were talking about another challenge I'm sort of trying to put in front of them, but we haven't quite gotten gotten there yet, but I'm working on it. So that's, that's the challenge it, it really is to keep it fresh, to keep it new and exciting for them because they are giving up two hours on their Tuesday night, you know. They want to come someplace where they're going to be challenged, have fun and leave feeling like, wow, we really accomplished something tonight.
Michael: And we also want to bring some unique things to our audience because, I think we have a lot of repeat customers and you know, being able to expose them to a wide variety of music, but also to kind of model, I don't know, show off is the right word, but you know, to say, hey, we can do other stuff.
Michael: Display. We can, you know, we can display a variety of musical music types for you.
Gina: Tell me about some of the pieces that you are performing.
Paula: Well, I'll start with one a for the first time I think in the history of the Wilmington Choral Society, we're being accompanied by bagpipes on one number and this is, it's so much fun, but this piece is so good. It's actually an arrangement of Amazing Grace and luckily one of our members has a husband who is a bagpipe player. So we have been working on this beautiful arrangement by Mack Wilberg of Amazing Grace now. Amazing Grace. I, I sorta want to interject here, is not a traditional spiritual. It was actually written by a slave owner. But I felt it, it would be included in this, including it in this program would be very appropriate. So, the last couple of weeks we've had our bagpipe player in working with us. We're trying to find out now where in the Wilson Center we're going to put him because we've got different levels at work. So we're going to experiment a little bit I think with the sound of that. But it's, it's, yeah, it's a lot of fun. And as I said, a little out of the norm for us singing with a bagpipes.
Gina: That has got to be really interesting.
Gina: And you also have, besides a bagpipe, you also have soprano Denis Murchison Payton. Oh, now tell me how did you find her and and how did you choose her and just tell me all about her.
Paula: Well, denise, denise is a repeat guest, artists with us. She has some with us twice before, once we did Elijah, Mendelssohn's Elijah, and she was a soloist, and we also did Beethoven, avBeethoven mass, I believe a few years ago when she was also a soloist in that. So, anybody who's been in this area for any time probably knows of her, her wonderful background. She's a fabulous soloist. She's a teacher at Fayetteville State University and we are just thrilled that she agreed to come and sing on this program with us.
Gina: Have you rehearsed with her yet?
Paula: No, we actually ...
Michael: That will be about three hours before the concert.
Michael: Yes, yes. But we've had people stand in at our practices with her part and so we kind of know where to come in and where she's going to be taking over. So, it won't be brand new, but it'll certainly be new with her.
Gina: Sure. That'll be exciting won't it, when she walks in?
Paula: Yes, I just hope they remember to sing the next phrase after the first time she opens her mouth and sing a solo, my fear is the jaws are going to be dropping and there won't be any sound coming out of the choir! I mean, it's just, it's a really stunning, stunning voice and we're so excited to have her.
Gina: Mike. Which, which piece has been most challenging do you think?
Michael: Whoa, boy. Well, Amazing Grace is a tough one for the tenors. We have to range over two octaves on that one. So, there's a couple of times I slip into the falsetto and some of the other guys probably have a little easier time with it, but, some of the high notes are pretty challenging,
Paula: But I have to tell you, luckily we've got a terrific tenor section. We have a tenor section to die for and they are just doing an amazing job on that piece.
Michael: One of the songs that we've actually done before that I really liked is Deep River and it was the hard, hard thing to get with that one is the emotion, you know, the spiritual is you get a lot of happy music, but then there's a lot of, you know, very emotional type music. And getting that kind of feeling in these, in the harmonies I think is a tough one for that one. Paula says if we don't have him crying by bar eight, we're not singing it right. So that's you know, one of the things that we're, we're gauging it by is how good we're at getting the audience to react.
Paula: That's right, bring your tissues.
Gina: Do you bring in some guests just to see, like do they start crying by bar 8 do we need to go back and start again? [laughter]
Michael: We'll check that out during the dry run, our rehearsal.
Gina: If you could share the details--and also tell me about the fact that folks can bring donations.
Michael: Before our concert, we do collect nonperishable food items for Mother Hubbard's Cupboard Food Bank here in Wilmington. We accept donations for them as well. There'll be a table right as you come in the front door and they'll be collecting both food and any donations. We've been supporting them for a number of years now and they need all the help that they can get.
Gina: The Wilmington Choral Society, you all could use some help too, right? Are you all taking donations too or just people just go and buy your tickets?
Michael: Well, we do take donations and that's described in the program. If people come in and want to look and see how they can donate, you can easily donate online on our website. But, you know, if we get good attendance, we survived just fine. Of course all the members pay dues and things, but we're okay financially when we get good audiences. So, you know, people come and show their love for the choral arts. That's really what we asked for first.
If we wanted to mention it--this is our first night concert ever. We've been doing Sunday afternoons most of the time and as the Wilson Center becomes more popular, times become more difficult to get. But we're looking forward to that. I think it's exciting to have, an evening concert. It gives people a little bit of a different time-space to come and see us. So that will be a new. And we'll also be doing that next May. We will have a night concert next May.