Image by Fringe Festival

Reviewer: Manuel Cortes

With vigour and ecstasy, Providence Gospel Choir heralds the coming of the 2022 Perth Fringe World!

Before the music, however, director Jane Chapple took a moment to acknowledge the vast experiential distance between the gospel music presented in this evening’s performance and the stylistic origins of the genre; namely, African-American spirituals derived from plantation slave songs. By addressing the emotional weight that this music held and continues to represent within the context of worship, Providence Gospel Choir respectfully creates a space that allows the audience to engage with these songs while being aware of gospel’s extra-musical significance in other times and places.

Providence Gospel Choir has been described by its director as a “free, non-audition community choir.” The fact that the chorus predominantly remained within the realm of two-part harmony represents effective self-restraint; a “community choir” is measured not by the technical complexity of its music, but by the enthusiasm of its members and the joy that they radiate. In this arena, Providence Gospel Choir excels.

The choristers smile as widely as the members of the audience and move naturally – not to strict choreography, but to their own rhythm. Spirit and song flow forth in equal measure, exemplified by the chorus’ gospel renditions of soul and funk tunes from the latter half of the 20th century; Bill Withers’ “Lovely Day” was certainly an audience favourite. Chapple’s informative interjections between tunes were delivered from the heart, with effortless wit and enlightening anecdotes that reveal her passion for the music. The accompaniment provided by the choir’s four-piece band remained consistent throughout, providing an unobtrusive rhythmic base.

The highest praise is to be sung of Katrina Mechler and Maya Yussof, the two featured soloists. Mechler’s stunning melismatic abilities found the perfect vehicle in the spiritual “Satan, We’re Gonna Tear Your Kingdom Down,” the most moving tune of the concert. The powerful strains of the choir were complemented by a stark lack of instrumental accompaniment, resulting in an utterly raw sound. Yussof stood out for her engagement and interaction with the choir, singing with infectious excitement. Her numbers (“Take It” and “You Brought the Sunshine”) were energetic and, like Mechler’s, perfectly paired with the performer.

Both soloists’ enthusiasm for gospel music is evident in their firm grasp of stylistic techniques such as melisma and call-and-response. Furthermore, the presence of soloists seemed to noticeably encourage the choir, and it was in this accompanying role that the chorus appeared most confident and powerful. Indeed, in the case of the four tunes incorporating soloists, the audience would certainly be forgiven for forgetting that this is a “non-audition” ensemble.

With four performances remaining (15th, 16th, 28th and 29th of January), Providence Gospel Choir is recommended to all, particularly those who are looking for a shorter performance which nevertheless packs an emotional punch. Having performed at both Fringe World and the Fairbridge Festival in 2021, it is safe to assume that this chorus, much like their songs of praise, will continue to ascend ever-upwards.

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