Last fall the Sanctuary Choir at Thrasher Memorial United Methodist Church received an invitation to perform in New York at the historic Lincoln Center on Memorial Day 2017. The invitation was extended by the prestigious Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY).
The choir is led by Josh O’Dell, the Minister of Music at Thrasher, but at the Lincoln Center the members performed under the direction of renowned conductor and composer Pepper Choplin in a world premiere of his composition based on Psalm 23. They were accompanied by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.
Choplin says, “Psalm 23 holds a special place in the lives of believers. We often read or say it from memory at significant services and times of challenge. The few verses are so profound and express so much. Beside the still waters, through the valley of the shadow of death, through all the days of our lives, the psalm helps us describe the journey we travel as the sheep of His pasture.”
Selections include “Lead Me on Paths of Righteousness,” “The Lord is My Shepherd,” “My Cup Overflows,” “Restore My Soul,” “Surely Goodness and Mercy,” “Though I Walk Through the Valley,” “We are Not Alone,” and “You Comfort Me.”
At the time of the invitation, Dr. Jonathan Griffith, Artistic Director and Principal Conductor for DCINY, said, “The Sanctuary Choir received this invitation because of the quality and high level of musicianship demonstrated by the singers as well as the exceptional recommendation given by Barry Green.”
Green is the choir director at Bonsack Baptist. The Bonsack choir was also invited to perform the Choplin work at the Lincoln Center— one of 10 choirs chosen from across the nation.
According to the media release announcing the invitation, “It is quite an honor just to be invited to perform in New York. These wonderful musicians not only represent a high quality of music and education, but they also become ambassadors for the entire community. This is an event of extreme pride for everybody and deserving of the community’s recognition and support.”
The choir visited New York from May 26-30, staying at the historic Wellington Hotel in Central Manhattan near Carnegie Hall.
While the performance was the primary purpose for the visit, there was down time for seeing the sights and a couple of Broadway plays– “Phantom of the Opera” and the musical “Aladdin.” O’Dell said they ate at several trendy restaurants, took the bus tour of Manhattan and the boat tour on the Hudson River and visited the 9/11 Memorial.
In addition to the Lincoln Center concert, the Thrasher choir performed another stand-alone program at an historic black church, St. Mark’s in Harlem.
The Thrasher orchestra did not make the trip, but pianist Star Song, oboist Linda Kasprzak, and clarinetist Wayne Kasprzak accompanied the choir at St. Mark’s, where the church provided lunch and served communion.
O’Dell said it is quite an honor to be asked to perform in the Lincoln Center and especially through the DCINY series.
He also said it is an honor to work with conductor/composer Pepper Choplin, whose published work includes over 250 anthems for church and school choirs and 16 church cantatas. Over 100 groups have commissioned him to write original works for them. Since 1991, his choral music has sold several million copies. Each week thousands of singers present his music in churches and schools across the United States and around the world
About 50 people made the bus trip to New York, including 27 vocalists, along with their spouses and friends.
Singers who performed in New York, including a handful from other churches, were Donna Brogan, Floyd Boone, Deedie Kagey, Marie Bishop, Pat Armentrout, Jeanne Abbott, Lanea Gillespie, Marlene Davis, Bob Benninger, Linda Wheeler, Josh O’Dell, Star Song, Wayne Dutton, Joyce Dutton, Brandon Mock, Becky Frazier, Pam Aldridge, Larry Shepherd, Ken Richardson, Deborah Richardson, Brooke Stackpole, Cristen Mitchell, Susan Foutz, Mary Ellen Campbell, Barbara Devlin, Jim Reynolds, and Cody Spangler.
O’Dell said that performing in the David Geffen Hall at the Lincoln Center was awe-inspiring, “to think that you are standing and performing where great stars such as Pavarotti, Frank Sinatra, and Josh Groban have performed.”
Choir member Deedie Kagey said that, with the packed itinerary, “sleep was very limited” with four hours of practice at the Hilton on both Saturday and Sunday, the many tourist activities, and more practice at the Lincoln Center prior to the actual concert on Monday.
“The performance was at 8 p.m. and we were put in a holding area until time to get in our proper places on risers,” said Kagey. “It was very tight on the risers with 253 voices. The concert went extremely well. Some spouses of choir members said it was beautiful and every word was discernible. It was Fleet Week, so the orchestra kicked off by playing music from the Armed Forces, having everyone stand up when their song was played. After the concert, there was a reception Again, it was a short night for sleep.”
The choir traveled with the Abbott Bus Lines.
“I can’t say enough about how wonderful the Abbott bus services were,” Kagey noted.
The choir performed the entire program of Psalm 23 and additional pieces the choir sang at St. Mark’s in a concert back at Thrasher on June 4, adding “His Eye is on the Sparrow,” “Joy in the Morning,” and “How Great Thou Art,” and other works.
The Thrasher choir has been invited back to New York in April 2018 to perform at Carnegie Hall.