Lifting their voices

By Marisa de Silva

"It may be storming at the Jordan, stand there anyhow. Anyhow, anyhow, anyhow…" A group of young female singers heard this gospel number for the first time last year, when Prof. Mark Wilson, Director of the University of California, Berkeley Gospel Choir, conducted a week long workshop with them, which wound up with a performance at the Wendt. Since then, this tune has seen this choir through many a trying time.

Having inspired and encouraged these girls to sing straight from their hearts, Professor Wilson is back together with Soul Sounds, and will uplift local audiences to a higher realm once more!

Q: What brings you back to our shores?

A: My visit to Sri Lanka for yet another time is primarily inspired by the friendships and relationships that have been shared between the members of Soul Sounds, the Artistic Director, Soundarie David, and the parents and families of the chorus, who have become like family to me. Choral music is a wonderful opportunity not only to blend voices and make wonderful harmony, but also to create harmony and community between people throughout the world.

Q: Will it be different from last years' show?

A: I think this year's concert will be a little different particularly in the freedom and confidence that Soul Sound has developed in singing gospel songs. Last year's workshop and concert was their first introduction to the style, art and singing of gospel music. It was also my first introduction to the choral group and to Sri Lanka as well. Last years' performance and subsequent performances of gospel music, where they won three Golds at the World Choir Games in Austria, I believe, has made them even more confident about singing freely from the heart, more passionate about singing from the depths of their emotions, and be filled with the message of hope that "Everything will be alright!"

Q: What do you think is the most important thing/s when it comes to singing Gospel music?

A: For me the most important elements for singing gospel music are singing from one's personal context, communicating the message of struggle and hope. Gospel songs flow from the heart, to hearts, allowing the body, mind and soul to embrace both the suffering felt in the world and the hope.
This happens best when the music of the gospel artist is not detached from the personal experience of the performer or the message that the artist wants to share with others.

Q: What is the best part about working with Soul Sounds?

A: I really enjoy Soul Sounds for the hard work, dedication and sincere effort that the young women of this outstanding choral group put into learning new genres of music. Not only is Soul Sounds a talented group of singers, but these young women are also gifted in their ability to learn a new musical art like gospel quickly, but also embrace it and make it their own. Last year I was particularly impressed to see members of the choir teaching each other parts during the breaks, and not depending solely on the director to learn their parts. It's no wonder that their best is heard, appreciated and rewarded at choral festivals and major performances. I also value the respect they give to directors, educators and professors like me. This is something that young adults in the United States could learn so much more about.

Q: Who is/ are your biggest inspiration/s and influences? Do you hope to make this an annual event?

A: My most recent inspiration has been in the election of President-elect Barack Obama and upon my return to the US I will participate in an interfaith inauguration ceremony happening for him in my hometown of Oakland, California.

Without a doubt, Soul Sounds is a group of young people that inspires me. My "daughters" give me reason to smile, to rejoice and to hope that the world will be a better place in which to live. For these reasons, and so many more, this visit to Sri Lanka has to be an annual event!

"I first met Professor when I went to California to study in 2007 and it's as a result of our friendship throughout that year that inspired me to invite him to Sri Lanka last year, so the girls could learn the proper art of Gospel singing. And now this year we've invited him again to come pick up where he left off. I'd also like to say thank you to The Cinnamon Grand for always supporting us," said Soundarie David – Music Director of Soul Sounds.

A Glorious Quest – Music in the Air, presented by Soul Sounds, directed by Prof. Mark Wilson and accompanied by Soundarie David, Neranjan de Silva and Christo Prins, will be held on January 11, at 7.30pm, at the Lionel Wendt. The choir is artistically directed by Jerome L. De Silva. Tickets are available at the Wendt.

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