When the Spirit moves you

Conductor Linda Kay Bailey leads the choir. Several of the members don’t read music and have to learn the songs by ear. Thanks to leaders like Bailey and minister of music Lorraine Long, that disadvantage goes unnoticed when the choir performs. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JOE MCSORLEY

by Moira Cullings
moira.cullings@theleaven.org

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Every now and then, the Our Lady & St. Rose choir gets a little emotional.

“We sing from our heart,” said member Carol Welch.

“Certain songs really touch your heart and it brings the Spirit out in you,” she said. “You feel the love.”

Each fall, the Our Lady & St. Rose Choir inspires a packed church during its annual gospel choir concert.

This year, the 11th annual concert was held Sept. 24 in front of a full house at Our Lady & St. Rose Church in Kansas City, Kansas.

The purpose of the concert is threefold, said member Carole Kelley.

“One is, it’s our way of evangelization and reaching out to the community,” she said. “Two is, we are beginning a major renovation campaign, so it’s to raise funds.”

“And then, it’s just something we enjoy doing,” she added.

The choir members describe themselves as a diverse group that mixes traditional Catholic music with their   African-American heritage.

“This church has a diversity of people in the congregation,” said Lorraine Long, minister of music and lead pianist for the choir.

“So when the choir sings for regular Mass on Sundays, they incorporate traditional Catholic music that can be heard in other churches all over the city,” she said.

“However, because it’s predominantly African-American here,” she continued, “the music is sprinkled with spirituals because of the cultural heritage of the church.”

The annual concert leans toward a soulful gospel vibe.

Long spends about six months putting the concert’s music together, balancing the program with a variety of songs and styles.

“I try to be trendy with what’s current in urban and contemporary gospel — the up-and-coming music that’s out there,” she said.

The rest of the choir practices for a couple months, and the sacrifices it takes are worth it because of the joy they get from their ministry, said Welch.

“The music is so good, you just feel the spiritual in it,” she said.

“You know you’re not doing it for you, you’re doing it for the Lord,” continued Welch. “So you’re feeling what you’re singing.”

The gospel choir was founded in 1981 by Father Richard Etzel, and many members have been part of it since then.

When Long became the minister of music nearly two decades ago, member Peggy Robinson admits they were a little nervous.

“This was the first gospel choir she initiated and we were all scared stiff,” said Robinson.

“You get cold feet anyway if you’re up there on a solo with all these people out there,” she said. “But it’s just wonderful to do and to see the results when it all comes together.”

Singing together means a lot to the choir, said longtime member Barbara Bailey.

“Most of us went to grade school together,” she said. “So it’s not really work — it’s enjoyable.”

Bailey and her fellow members are grateful for the participation of Our Lady & St. Rose pastor Father Mark Mertes.

“He’s good!” she said. “He plays his guitar, and he really [participates].”

The choir invites every parish in the archdiocese to attend the concert, so Long makes the performance the best it can be.

“I put songs in a certain order to get people pulled into the experience of the enjoyment of praising God,” she said.

“I work really hard it at,” Long continued, “because if people enjoy it and at the end of the experience everybody feels good and is on a spiritual high, I feel that we’ve worked toward making a connection with the Holy Spirit.”

The choir members simply enjoy inspiring those in attendance.

“They say when you sing you pray twice,” said Robinson. “So we try to encourage the congregation to sing with us.”

And they normally do.

“It’s heartfelt, it’s moving, it’s faith-filled,” said member Beatrice Swoopes.

“We’re small,” she added, “but we’re mighty.”

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