Thank you to everyone who donated towards this amazing project. Many choir members were only able to participate thanks to our Indiegogo campaign and other fundraising events.

 Montreux Jazz Festival as described by Briget Boyle

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 two 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.

 The Choir had two performances as part of the legendary festival. The first took place on the Park Stage on Friday, July 10 at 6:30 PM and the second at St. John’s Church on Saturday, July 11 at 6 PM. At the Park Stage, the performance happened during a heavy traffic time, so the voices of OIGC were heard by a huge number of people. As the performance went on, I watched otherwise calm and collected people slowly unwind into dancin’ and praisin’ fools. The crowd went from weeping at OIGC’s rendition of “Lawd, How Come Me Heah?” to doing the sprinkler dance during “Everybody Dancin’.” It was incredible to watch the joy and emotion seep out of the audience. I think that the choir felt it, too. Even though they were on a hot stage with the sun in their eyes, they sang with such force and were so connected.

 The performance at St. John’s Church was beyond expectations. The choir sang acoustically with two mics for the soloists, and wow, their voices filled that church with exuberance. Similar to the Park Stage, the audience was wowed by the choir and were dancing and singing along by the end.  The minister of the church was thrilled to have OIGC there and said that nothing like our concert had ever happened in his church.

 Overall, our experience in Montreux was incredible. The choir members got some time to enjoy the beauty of the land, deliciousness of the food, and the sweetness of the sounds at the Montreux Jazz Festival. But the highlight was getting to share our music with the people in Switzerland. Before the performance at the Park Stage, the choir did their traditional circle-up backstage. There was such a beautiful sense of community and accomplishment that we had made it. By the time it was my turn to yell out one word of praise, I had melted into a hot mess of emotion, feeling so proud of the choir. I knew that the mission of the choir, to inspire joy ad unity among all people, was now being felt on a global level.

                                                                                                                           

Copenhagen Concert at Good Hope Church as told by Terrance Kelly

 In the middle of the tour we had one concert in Copenhagen.  This concert was really special to me. A former assistant conductor for OIGC, Paul Kim now lives in Denmark where he has started the International Academy of Gospel Music. I have been the Master teacher for the last three years and have been traveling there to conduct workshops with a few of the local gospel choirs, including The Good Hope Gospel Choir (under the directorship of Lise Yoshidaand the Heart and Soul Gospel Choir (under the directorship of Katrine Christiansen).

I have grown really fond of the Denmark gospel community, which has its own sound and is very moving and spirit filled.  It became a goal of mine to bring OIGC and the choirs of Denmark together after I realized that the spirit of OIGC lived right there in the heart of Denmark. Plus, the Danish are such a loving and fun group to be and sing with.

 Needless to say, I was right about the connection. On the evening of the concert in Copenhagen there were about 75 of the 130 Academy gospel Choir members who started the concert off with a bang. Then 52 members of OIGC came up and sang from their hearts and had the house on its feet.  Bring in Desiree Warren (daughter of OIGC choir member Cathy Warren) for a wonderfully moving liturgical dance presentation and you would have thought that it could not have gotten any better.  Then, it happened... Both choirs came together and there was magic!  Hand clapping, swaying to the beat with tears in their eyes and joy in their hearts, the crowd and the choirs became one. As joy spilled out of the church and into the street, people began to come inside to see what was happening. They stayed and joined in the praise....

Oh, what a night!  After the concert, OIGC was treated to a wonderful party Danish style. Piles of meatballs and potatoes/potato salad stretched out across a humongous table, along with a delicious berry dessert none of us could pronounce. (feel free to insert mumbling a la the Swedish Chef from the Muppets)

We went back to our hotels pooped, yet still floating from the wonderful experience.

 

Molde Jazz Festival depicted by Mark DeSaulnier

It was such an honor for OIGC to be featured alongside SKRUK in three sold-out concerts at the Molde International Jazz Festival in Norway. The two choirs brought together a program that merged the West of Norway with the West of the United States titled “Roots.” The responses were fantastic and so encouraging. With four feature articles in both national and local news, there was no doubt that the musical experience struck a chord with the audiences and reviewers alike!

 As the Executive Director, I had the rare opportunity to just stand back and observe reactions throughout all three concerts.  I must say, the Norwegians were moved. And let me tell you, that is no small feat! Tears were streaming down faces, feet were moving, hands were clapping… As one reviewer put it, our concerts brought out the most celebration they had ever seen in the 40 years of the festival’s existence.

 Off the stage, it was so wonderful to watch as OIGC and SKRUK members connected like long-lost friends, giving me no doubt in my mind that  a beautiful relationship has started that will last a lifetime. Prots and Terrance worked seamlessly with both choirs giving a sense of cooperation and collaboration. They bonded over music and their impressive beards (See the picture below in slideshow!).  We also had wonderful meals together during the very busy rehearsal and performance days, breaking bread together and coming together with lots of laughter.

At times the choir was so tired from the hectic schedule, choir members ended up in other people's robes and t-shirts without realizing it. Some even fell asleep between shows and almost missed their performance. (One soprano was even rumored to have been drooling a bit.) But once the choir got on stage, the music brought them back to life and energized them to give beyond what seemed capable. And boy, how the crowd responded. See here for an example of the feedback.

 

Bonus: Evidence of OIGC acclaim, as illustrated by Isa S. Chu

On the last day in Oslo, Terrance, Bernadette, and I were spending the day together. Bernie hung back to take some pictures, Terrance and I were just chatting away... During a pause in our conversation, I turned around to take in the scenery and I catch an Asian lady trying to stealthily take a picture of Terrance and me with her cell phone. I smiled at her, and then Terrance and I posed for a picture. Several other people in her group proceeded to take out their phones to take pictures!

 While Terrance and Isa had a good laugh over the picture taking incident, we feel that OIGC’s impact in these countries and the reactions of the festival staff, other choirs, audiences, and press are signs of even bigger things on the horizon. 

Thank you again to everyone who helped make this trip possible.

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