A chatty informal crowd cheered warmly as the members of Jubilation Choir entered the stage at The Auckland Performing Arts Centre or TAPAC last night. Born in Auckland in 2000, the choir is a lolly bag of all sorts including builders, actors, lecturers, yacht makers, and musicians who all bring amazingly full lives and experiences to their singing. In a nutshell, their sound is about loving gospel, blues and singing. But what was even more obvious was that the group have an absolute riot, it’s about the joy of the music.
Singing ticks many boxes for us human beings, it ticks learning to breathe in decent lungfuls, creating something beautiful without having to lug around an instrument in a case, giving voice to emotions that might have remained stuck…. But in a choir such as Jubilation, there are even more ticks because it fulfils a human need to be part of a tribe and even better to create sounds together that make music.
A palpable sense of community in full tuneful glory filled the stage at TAPAC and that was a reward in itself.
The repertoire included traditional American spirituals and gospel tunes such as Wanna Ride That Glory Train, New Zealander Don McGlashan’s Bathe In The River, Curtis Mayfield’s People Get Ready, Do Your Thing from the movie Shaft. As in a traditional gospel choir, singers step out of the ‘congregation’ to lead the solos, proclaiming the lines and the chorus responding, the call and answer rising in enthusiasm and passion. Music in the church is designed to reach into people’s hearts, claim their convictions and to fire up the congregation to feel moved and return week after week for more. Gospel music originally was the release for African American slaves from hardship and pain, and a way for the community to unify and be uplifted.
So you could ask what was the passion behind this gospel choir in relatively comfy middle-class New Zealand? It wasn’t about being the polished product, there were some intonation issues here and there, there were some rough edges to some of the solos, there were even a few false starts to some of the songs. But that wasn’t important.
Jubilation was singing for their hearts and souls’ sake and you can’t help but be touched by that. It’s a universal need and that’s what this music should be about. There was no self-consciousness but real freedom in their expression.
They delivered some heartfelt moments such as the opening of Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come and the stunning and reverently sung Bathe In The River by the whole chorus for the first of the encores.
One of the coolest parts of the evening was that this choir truly shares the stage with each other. Although Isolde Grunwald expertly led the choir for many of the songs, many other singers stepped out to lead the choir. Although there were quite a few renowned voices, almost everyone stepped out to solo or sing in quartets or duets. Every singer brought a different way for the audience to connect to music. And never a dull moment with the colourful mash-ups of vocal groupings.
Some notable voices in the evening included the Kiwi singer Rick Bryant who, even in his seventies, was still able to deliver decent soul and a genuine message. Entertainer and singer Jacquie Clarke raised the roof with her two solo numbers climbing right up into high falsetto and grasping the gospel style with a great belt. Her second solo was solid gold in the Aretha Franklin tradition despite her declaring the soul was down to her sore feet and hungry belly! And a joyful Leak In The Building sung by master builder Peter Kirkbride ended the programme.
No-one coming out of TAPAC last night left without a smile on their dial. Here was hand-clapping, feet stomping big Feel Good factor. As the crowd filtered out into the night air, I could hear bits of songs being sung as the audience went to their cars.
Jubilation you’ve started something here! You’ve got us inspired... Long live soul music!