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Ryan Knapp of The Bay Bridged reviews OICC's Music for Peace Concert

Check out the full review here!!

Thirty years ago the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir branched out of Oakland’s Jazz Camp. OIGC performed and even traveled the world, and eventually, spawned two similarly minded choirs, the Oakland Interfaith Youth Choir and the Oakland Interfaith Community Choir. The youth choir is for youth, and the community choir is a no-audition choir, meaning anyone can join if they like to and want to sing gospel music and can rehearse once a month.

Saturday was their third annual performance at First Congregational Chuch in Oakland. They were joined by some special guests: Ja Ronn & F.L.O.W.Tamara Edwards, and preacher Reginald Finley. The concert was called Music for Peace, and the words kept coming up.

Save for a Catholic upbringing, I’m not particularly religious. Because of this, I was worried I wasn’t the person to write about this performance. And although religion pulsed pretty clearly through the performance’s veins (after all, it was a gospel concert at First Congregational Church of Oakland), I also felt like much of the delivery, much of the emotional profile of the night, was direct enough to carry explicit meaning in or out of a religious setting. Songs about faith can be songs about perseverance, too. If the opening prayer didn’t speak to you as prayer, it’s possible it spoke to you as the words from someone standing and speaking candidly to an audience about how hurt things are, and what she wants the world to have and how to have it.

There was a moment of silence for the past few weeks of loss. There was a moment halfway through the performance when Terrance Kelly, OICC Director, asked the audience to greet one another and wish each other peace, which we did until music started again. He shared a story of his own grieving process, and how a friend of his helped him through the tragedies from this month. In a lot of ways, the night was very church-like: At one point they passed baskets around for donations, everyone stuck around afterward and chatted, and people bought cupcakes from the bake sale supporting the Oakland Interfaith Youth Choir.

But in other ways, it felt like a concert. Ja Ronn & F.L.O.W. performed first. The eight-piece choir led by Ja Ronn sang two songs, but before starting the second song, they asked Kelly which of two songs they should sing, leaving it up to him (Kelly is Ja Ronn’s uncle). He picked “There Remaineth a Rest,” which I’m grateful for. The song was pretty leveling. It was sung a cappella, so it was the first time of the night that was just voices. It’s a beautiful song: Lots of subtle blending and bending voices, and dynamic in volume: Loud one moment and silent the next, except for the sound of their voices dissolving into the church walls. This song was the first part of the night that audience members started getting swept away. The song was so sharp with emotion it made people react; pulled words out of their mouths. “Yes.” “There you go.” “That’s it.” “Yeah.” “Hallelujah!”

The Oakland Interfaith Community Choir followed, but it should be noted that the band — a drummer, bassist, and two people on keys — played music to speakers’ speaking, like Director Terrance Kelly’s inter-song monologue or Patrick Landeza’s emcee-ing. So, for example, when Leah Martens opened with a half-spoken, half-spoken-word prayer, it was delivered with the swell of an organ, a keyboard, drums, and a bass. She prayed to a soundtrack of sorts, and it was a profound thing, I thought, to accompany one with the other. The prayer and the song became one emotional project.

This was kind of a theme for the night: one word or concept either supporting or equivocated with another word or concept. Song and prayer. Song as prayer. Prayer and Gospel. Singing as speaking. Love and God. Connections not only drawn but harmonized, in literal and figurative senses. Think about the choir themselves, pretty interfaith – Christian, Jewish, agnostic, Unitarian, Baseball (in the words of Kelly), the list goes on – yet they’re all singing, harmonizing, and collaborating on songs about faith, which is why I felt the songs were as about faith as they could be. There is a difference between a single-denomination choir singing about faith and an interfaith choir singing about faith, and I think the difference is that for the latter it’s not only harmonized voice, but also harmonized religion; harmonized ways.

The OICC sang seven songs. There were 90 singers. The youngest singer looked 16 or so; the eldest was 93. They started with a spiritual. Kelly explained, “There’s no music from America other than that of indigenous peoples that didn’t come from the Negro spiritual.” He sang a line from a country song, a new twang in his voice: “Yeah, that comes from the Negro spiritual, too.” He said this with a pride in his voice, and he said it with clarity.

Like the word peace, the word love came up again and again throughout the performance. It was used in a vague, blaringly unspecific way — and purposely so, because if love can mean more than one thing, and at the very least not just one thing, it’ll have more space, more use and more stage time in their and our performances.

Soloist Tamara Edwards joined OIGC for one of the songs, “Speak.” During part of the song the choir's voices raised, but not at the same time: The sections sort of ping-ponged upward, Edwards’ voice doing the same thing. It’s hard to describe, but it was an almost overwhelmingly organized and loud. It’s like when someone is yelling to you. Not angry, just excited, and you pick up on the excitement and know that you need to quickly adjust in some way to the change in energy, because it’s impossible to ignore. Some of the singers shook. I think a couple of them teared up. At some of the more intense moments the voices made me feel sort of bashful (weird, no?); not necessarily intimidated but well aware of and silenced by the energy directed at me. Lady next to me standing, clapping. Guy in front of us standing, head bowed and hand up like an antennae toward the singers, receiving something.

After hearing the performance, after being audience with the audience, I think that everyone stood in the presence of the voices the exact way it had them stand, and this was the thing to share in the tall, concrete church.

Tags: Oakland Interfaith Community Choir

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OICC Sparkles with a Rousing Debut Road Performance with Host Sister Choir, AIGC!

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OICC Sparkles with a Rousing Debut Road Performance with Host Sister Choir, AIGC!

In the wee hours of Friday, May 6th, OICC departed on a chartered bus, glory bound for the north coast community of Arcata. Our first road trip came off without a logistical hitch worth mentioning (we won't talk about the bathroom snafu, oops, TMI..!). A pleasant slog of roughly 270 miles, we stopped at Cloverdale for the first of two stretch stops, then tarried a while for lunch in Garberville, a historic timber community possibly better known today as a leading repository of licensed medical marijuana retail outlets. Indeed, for some of us, the rarefied air may have awakened dormant appetites. But I digress. Arriving in Arcata at God knows what time (it was a pleasant slog), our lovely and intrepid trip coordinator, Sophie, gave us our keys and room assignments and the itinerary for the evening. And what an evening it was! We were guided on a nifty little hike in a redwood grove just above Humboldt State U. Our guide, a principle member of AIGC, described the diverse flora of the area, including the regenerative properties of redwoods that allow an age old, but dying stump, to germinate and nurture a newly born redwood to take its place in the endless cycle of life, of birth and rebirth. You can actually see the metamorphosis (in still life) of the nascent youth literally growing out of the ancient, venerated one.

Later that first night, AIGC greeted us at their home worship center, unveiling a culinary display of tasty delights that would rival the best-planned receptions. All manner of pasta salads, al dente (and otherwise), Asian fusion salads, colorful casseroles, elegantly prepared meats, including turkey and lamb, and a wonderful array of desserts. Naturally, Terrance gathered his faithful charges into the chapel to join AIGC for a quick rehearsal of our closing piece, Clap Your Hands. Some of us (they shall remain nameless, but they were in the tenor section...hmm, who could that be?) were lovingly admonished not to sing in a classical, formal style, but rather to evoke a livelier, if not “stankier” tone. Yes. The Spirit is Risen. And moving among the people.

The next day, our free day, offered a choice between the Trinidad headland and beach, and staying local for the Arcata farmer's market in the quadrangle downtown. This presented a quandary, as some wanted to partake of both diversions. Once again, the lovely and intrepid, Sophie rose to the occasion and, without batting an eye, ingeniously arranged a turnaround point for our bus driver to pick up the Trinidad folks and shuttle them back over the freeway and to the prearranged drop off point near the bustling festivities in Arcata. Trinidad was way cool (can I say that at my age and get away with it) and boasts some historical religious significance that is evidenced in the monument of a large, stone-hewed white celtic (?) cross that, if memory serves, references King Charles I (Monarch of England, Scotland, and Ireland, 1625-1649) etched (in Latin) on the base. If any of our Trinidad party has the precise translation and its significance to the locality, please post it to this blog. Or, better yet, post a picture of the monument. As I recall, our hike along the headland was to culminate in the location of the Trinidad Lighthouse. As it turned out, only a few of us (not I) were able to espy the top of the lighthouse which, apparently, is situated on an outcropping of heavy rock that overlooks the beach. Other interesting encounters involved a lone snail, somewhat small, even as snails go, and sporting a shell with swirling colors of brown and green shades. We set the arthropod off the trail and onto a pillow of dry grass. By this writing, we hope he/she continues to thrive in the deliciously diverse north coast ecosystem. On our way back to the beach, Eileen and I came upon a patch of crystalline white spring blooms, all displaying a six-pointed array of petals, save one, the outlier, which announced ever so subtly, an array of 7 petals. An auspicious number, indeed. No sooner had we trekked another 20 yards than we glanced another garland of the same blooms, but with this patch all showing 5 petals to a flower, with the notable exception of the one outlier showing, you may have guessed, 6 petals. Nature's grand design -- a simple symmetry of harmony and diversity, the same and different, quiet and loud, precious to behold.

beautiful arcata coast.jpg

It's now 4 o'clock and we're all chilling or napping, or a mixture of both as we prepare for the concert up the road at the historic Arkley Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Eureka. Our sound check comes after the other performers so we've got some time to take in the sights and sounds of this beautiful theater, similar architecture and period as the Oakland Paramount, Art Deco, serpentine subterranean hallways, gathering, and dressing rooms, but a decidedly smaller lobby and auditorium. Our sound check goes well; our processing off stage into the front rows of the auditorium does, ahem, not. Terrance, the consummate professional and gracious showman that he is, wrings his hands a bit over our sudden propensity to not follow clearly given instructions. We get it together and fall into the first two rows, if not haphazardly.

We're on the risers. The curtain rises. (Say that ten times fast, vocalists!). And we're beaming lights of pure joy and rapture, and maybe a little indigestion compliments of the rushed burrito with too much chipotle sauce. Terrance focuses the choir with his most sincere "precious lambs I need you to watch me now" look. Cue band. First song: I Can Make It. Enter Gene. After the setup, mellifluous tones exude as the soloist hits the heart of every note, releasing a passionate first chorus. Maestro Terrance brings in the choir. Gene has laid the foundation. Choristers respond with equal vigor. We are all feeling the One Spirit. Singing in harmony, the One Voice. Second song: Marvelous. Stephanie's confidence is equalled only by her clarity of tone. Another impassioned performance. Hearts are light. The Muse is in the house. It IS the Music. We are merely the messengers.

Host choir AIGC called forth the Muse with its own incredibly energetic and polished execution of its eclectic repertoire, including a stirring arrangement of Stevie Wonder's Love's In Need of Love Today.

Everybody Clap Your Hands, with both choirs joined on stage, seemed the perfect closer to a memorable road trip.

Peace and Joy,

Joe Jakovac
OICC choir member

Correction to King Charles I (17th century monarch of England, Scotland, and Ireland 1625-1649) attribution. The white cross monument bears the inscription of Carolus III (or Charles III) Dei (of our Lord) G. (?) Hyspaniarum Rex (King of Spain). Inscribed with the precise date, June 9, 1775. This makes sense historically as we all know the California territory was originally colonized by Spain.

 For more photos from the Arcata tour check out OICC’s Facebook Page

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This Is Not Goodbye...

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This Is Not Goodbye...

My, these two years have flown by! Back in 2014 when I started my journey with Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, I didn’t know much about gospel music. In the beginning, I watched videos and listened to CDs, and while what I saw and heard was impressive, you really have to see the choir live to appreciate the full effect.  I would have that chance a month later...

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OIGC Scores Big at Super Bowl 50!

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OIGC Scores Big at Super Bowl 50!

This past week the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir was blessed to perform for three Super Bowl events including Super Bowl City, NFL Experience, and the GameDay Fan Plaza at Levi’s Stadium. I never would have imagined having the opportunity to sing at such a high-profile event. Yet there was OIGC, all dressed up in official NFL gospel choir robes, singing our hearts out for the attendees.

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Everyday Heroes: Terrance Kelly

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Everyday Heroes: Terrance Kelly

My family came to visit me and my husband over the holidays.  On Christmas Eve, we gobbled down spaghetti and meatballs, then headed into San Francisco for the OIGC ensemble show at Slim’s. My family had never heard the choir before, and they were blown away by the performance. (Rightly so!) They were especially impressed with my two favorite songs: the get-up-and-dance “Jesus Will” and the tear-jerking “Worth.”

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OIGC Brings Down the House in Switzerland, Denmark, and Norway

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OIGC Brings Down the House in Switzerland, Denmark, and Norway

When I was brought on as the Production Manager for the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir in September of 2013, the groundwork for the European tour had recently begun.  Almost 2 years later, after many hours of logistics, planning, and manifestation, I am pleased to say that the tour was a smashing success!

The members of the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir described the opportunity to perform at the Montreux Jazz Festival as a “bucket-list experience” and a “dream come true” and after hearing their voices lifted by the spirit at the Park Stage and at St. John’s Church, I’d say they can check that dream off their list.

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An Electric Evening with the Community Choir

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An Electric Evening with the Community Choir

Electricity filled the air at First Congregational Church on June 13th.  The community choir had performed there in April as part of the free spring musical, but this time was different. We had worked hard to spread the word about the show, rehearsed until we had our parts down pat.

After arriving, everyone I talked to was smiling and happy and ready to sing. With a successful sound check under our belts, we quickly ate then donned our stoles and bowties, adjusted lipstick and hair, grabbed a last drink of water. Right before it was time to file in, we circled up with the two visiting choirs, and Terrance led us through prayers for a joyful evening filled with peace and love. We held hands, sharing good thoughts with each other.  I could almost sense the energy slipping out the doors and into the Oakland night.

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Exploring a New World with OIGC

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Exploring a New World with OIGC

This past year, the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir completely changed my life.  I officially joined the choir last September, and ever since, I have experienced unprecedented artistic fulfillment as well as optimism about our world and the influence we can have in it.

We form this beautiful music called gospel by the traditional recipe of the human voice in harmonized chorus, the rhythms of the African diaspora, and the stories and melodies of America.  But unlike most gospel choirs, we are an explicitly interfaith organization.  To me this characteristic has two layers of poignancy.  At first, the obvious:  As religious intolerance justifies some of the most abhorrent violence throughout the world today, we stand as an interfaith gospel choir in front of the global audience as a basic refutation of this bigotry.  But in the Bay Area, where religious dogmatism is not so often the most formidable threat to our social integration, our choir is clearly an example of racial and socioeconomic diversity that is increasingly rare.  In addition to our numerous religious and spiritual persuasions, we are Black, White, Asian, Hispanic, wealthy, working class, old, young, straight, queer, and everything in between.  I have never before in my life been a part of such a diverse family, and I can’t begin to describe how awesome it is.

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A Year of Joyful Noise

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A Year of Joyful Noise

I started as administrative assistant of the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir last March, and it's been quite a ride. What a wonderful organization and what fun to be around interesting, thoughtful co-workers and a diverse group of choir members. 

So much has changed in the past year. From being promoted to Office Manager, to taking the lead on communications, to attending my first holiday concert at the Paramount. Granted, it hasn't always been easy. Multiple events at once, deadlines...and  have you ever tried tracking down information from Terrance Kelly? But some days don't even feel like a job, like watching videos  or sorting through photographs of the choir.

Another development is that I am now a proud member of the Oakland Interfaith Community Choir.

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A Holiday Reflection

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A Holiday Reflection

 was 24 years old, just a year home from college, working an internship at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center while I was looking for a full time job... and my purpose in life.

At approximately 7pm that Saturday night, I was sitting in the rear orchestra section of the Paramount Theatre by myself, surrounded by grown-ups I didn't know. My boss and mentor, Anne Huang, had given me a ticket to the gospel choir concert that she was in.

I was about to experience my first Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir concert. 

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A Night I'll Never Forget

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A Night I'll Never Forget

As I reflect over the last several months of excitement and anticipation (and hard work!), one particular concert stands out for me. 

I have never worked an event like the 29th Annual Holiday Concert before.  When OIGC started selling tickets, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Then I was all in: fielding questions from choir members and potential attendees, processing ticket orders, sending out VIP invitations, selling ads, editing the program, crafting the stage décor, you name it. 

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