A local choir is preparing to “come home” as they perform at Lichfield Cathedral.
The historic building will welcome the Lichfield Gospel Choir on Friday (July 14) as they perform alongside Black Voices at the 2017 Lichfield Festival.
The concert will see the group, led by musical director Themba Mvula, return very much to its roots.
“Lichfield Cathedral was one of the first performances the choir ever gave when they were formed in 2009,” Themba said. “They’re really looking forward to getting the chance to ‘come home’ in a way.
“You wouldn’t normally think of Lichfield having a connection with gospel music, but I’m always surprised by the level of enthusiasm all of the members of the choir have.
“When you first start there’s always a buzz around a project, but it’s been great to see how people have remained so enthusiastically committed to it ever since.
“It can be easy to get sucked into a set way of doing things, but we try to keep things fresh in terms of repertoire and having different kinds of opportunity, so that does help to keep that enthusiasm when you’re not doing the same kind of thing over and over again.
“When people come to the concerts it’s one of the things they are amazed by. They always comment on how enthusiastic and into the music the members are.”
The membership of the choir – currently sitting at more than 90 – is evidence if it were needed of just how successful the Lichfield Gospel Choir’s existence has been.
It might be easy to think the city just had lots of people wanting to sing, but Themba believes there’s more to it.
“The choir has brought people together that wouldn’t normally be together,” he said. “It’s a chance to meet people from outside of your normal life journey.
“There are strong friendships that have been formed and moved outside of the choir setting. There’s even strong bonds that exist with different sections of the group. That social bond is a strong element.
“Sadly, we have had a couple of choir members pass on and that’s when you sometimes get moments where you see the deeper significance and you realise how much the choir means to people.
“It really is about more than just singing.”
For Themba, who has just come off the back of a performance in La Boheme with Black Cat Opera and is preparing to head to France for an opera festival, the chance to appear with the gospel choir at the Lichfield Festival is certainly a change of pace.
But in a world of professional music, the change of pace offers moments he clearly treasures.
“For me it’s incredibly rewarding,” he told LichfieldLive. “I’ve always been a believer in everyone’s musical ability, so I try to approach it with a belief that we can produce a great sound and deliver tough harmonies.
“There’s so much joy in seeing people discover what they’re capable of. There’s that moment when you see the faces of members when we first do something people get that realisation of what they can achieve.
“You see it moving from section to section. So if I get the sopranos to open up their voices and try something, you then see other sections react and it feeds into the choir as a whole.
“There’s an enjoyment that comes with it too. We don’t take ourselves too seriously. In a professional environment you have to get it right and can sometimes need to go again and again until you get to where it needs to be, but this is a completely different experience.
“In the choir I’ve heard stories of when people were younger or at school and were told they couldn’t sing. Too many people have this sort of negative musical experience and this choir is a chance to correct some of this.”
The Lichfield Festival performance will see the gospel choir on the same bill as Black Voices – with both groups set to share a few numbers.
Themba added: “That should be a lot of fun because we’ll be able to get the audience involved too.
“Our concert will have a good mix of music. We’re working of an American theme, but we’ve tried to incorporate some different links to that. There’s some traditionally-arranged pieces, but there’s also some arranged by the likes of Ken Burton who is based in the UK, so they perhaps a little bit more of a British edge.
“We’ve also got a bit of African music that has travelled across the pond from South Africa to America and then back over here to become globally well known.
“There’ll be some lively upbeat and some spiritual stuff -it will be a real mix.”
Black Voices with the Lichfield Gospel Choir will be at Lichfield Cathedral as part of the Lichfield Festival at 7.30pm on July 14. For ticket details visit the Lichfield Festival website.