On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
It hasn’t been an easy year to be in a chorus. With group singing considered to be a potential “superspreader” for the coronavirus, choir practices and performances in the Washington region have gone virtual — or physically distant — the past nine months.
We hear from The Washington Chorus and Washington Performing Arts’ Children of the Gospel Choir on how they’ve adapted — and how they’re finding joy this season, in spite of it all. (Plus, we’ll give you a preview of their holiday performances!)
Produced by Julie Depenbrock
- Michele Fowlin Artistic Director, Washington Performing Arts' Children of the Gospel Choir
- Dr. Eugene Rogers Artistic Director, The Washington Chorus; @TWChorus
- Nia Frazier Singer, Washington Performing Arts' Children of the Gospel Choir
KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5. Welcome. It has not been an easy year to be in a chorus, with group singing considered to be a potential super-spreader for the coronavirus. Choir practices and performances in the Washington region have gone virtual or, at times, physically distant these past nine months. Joining us to discuss how they have adapted and how they're finding joy this season, in spite of it all, is Michele Fowlin, Artistic Director for Washington Performing Arts Children of the Gospel Choir. She also teaches music at Eleanor Roosevelt High School. Michele Fowlin, thank you for joining us.
MICHELE FOWLINThank you so much for having me. Excited to be here.
NNAMDIMichele, what we began with was the Children of the Gospel Choir singing Jingle Bell Rock. Tell us about this group of singers, Michele Fowlin.
FOWLINSo, we have a group that we audition. They are ages nine to 18 years old, and they are from all over the DMV. We have students as far as Loudoun County, all the way through Baltimore, Maryland. And they come in excited about gospel music -- excited about music, in general -- just wanting to have a platform to broaden their gifts and to have opportunity to sing in front of people like you and presidents and, you know, wherever they have the chance to do so.
NNAMDIWhere do the Children of the Gospel Choir usually rehearse and perform?
FOWLINSo, we have our base right now over at Shiloh Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., and gracious that they have afforded us space and time to be able to do so. But now, we are online, adjusting to the online learning process.
NNAMDIWhat can you tell us about the young people who make up this choir? We know that they're from all over this region, but who are they?
FOWLINThey are a diverse group of young people. And this is what I love so much about who it is that we draw. You know, gospel music is -- we think about it indicative to the African American experience. But really and truly, gospel music hits all ethnicities and religions, as well, if we think about it from that standpoint. So, we're getting kids who are from all over, and we have some who are Hispanic and some who are Black and Caucasian and Asian. It's just great to have that diversity of young people who have this love and passion for music and are interested in how they can bring it forth through gospel.
NNAMDIWhen did you know, Michele, that music was your passion?
FOWLINOh, wow. Age four, age four. And I know people would -- yeah, right. People would dare say, "You know, at age four, is that really possible?" Well, it was very possible. I had this -- we went to a friend's home, and I can remember this vividly. And she had a toy piano, and she was playing some Mozart on the radio. And I picked up the toy piano, and I started to play what I heard. And from that point on, my parents helped to broaden and give me the opportunities of lessons and just the exposure that was needed and necessary to help grow the gift. So, I'm super-appreciative for knowing that at such a young age.
NNAMDIPlaying what you heard at four years old. That's amazing. But now, what is so special to you about working directly with young people today?
FOWLINIt is definitely a calling, Kojo. This is life movement for me. This is the purpose that I know, one of them that I know that the creator has called me to serve. I always ask the creator for me to be impactful in whatever it is I do. And this is the vehicle of working with young people. I am so grateful to have teachers who saw the gift in me, and I wanted to do the very same thing for young people, see the gift in them and be a part of helping them to nurture their gift, and to make it become a reality, that there are no limitations to doing this thing we call music and having a career in the music world. If you want it badly enough and you work hard at it, there are no limitations for it other than what you have set for yourself. And so, I'm hoping that I can inspire that.
NNAMDIWe got a tweet from Manasi, who writes: Mrs. Fowlin was my choir director in high school. She's a major inspiration, and I love that she's keeping the music alive in Children of the Gospel Choir. Michele, how have you been able to continue your work as both a teacher and artistic director, remotely?
FOWLINThis has been a challenge, if I can be honest and transparent. But one of the things that for me is a mission in my music ministry dealing with the young people is to build them as well-rounded musicians, which affects them as being a well-rounded contributor adult to the society they choose to live in. So, the great part about what has taken place is that this is affording us time to deal with character-building, confidence, articulation, who you are and loving who you are and being proud of who you are, so that when you stand on a stage that's just a mere representation of examples or experiences that you'll end up going through in life, that you'll know how to handle it.
FOWLINThe music -- we miss the singing. We still do it. But we miss the connectivity of the choral experience. But there are other realms that these students are now having private voice coachings that we didn't have the opportunity to do before. So, they're learning how to grow their gift from an individual standpoint, so that when we're able to come back together collectively, they are much stronger. Not that all of them will become soloists, but they will learn different mechanisms and approaches to how they handle their own voice.
NNAMDIMichele Fowlin is the Artistic Director for Washington Performing Arts Children of the Gospel Choir. Joining us now is Dr. Eugene Rogers, the Artistic Director for Grammy Award-winning ensemble, The Washington Chorus. He is a two-time Emmy award-winner and a Grammy nominee. Dr. Eugene Rogers, thank you very much for joining us.
DR. EUGENE ROGERSThank you. It's good to be here, Kojo.
NNAMDIYou took over as artistic director for The Washington Chorus in this year, 2020, so, at a most unusual moment. What has the experience been like for you?
ROGERSWell, nothing like I imagined. That's for sure. I received the job in February, and we had all of these plans for about two years, and COVID-19 came. In March, we had to completely reimagine and think about how we would keep our community together, stay true to our mission. And I have to be honest, it has been challenging, but I'm very happy with what we've been able to do at this time.
NNAMDIWell, I have been reading about you and following your career for years. So, I was really looking forward to you coming here for The Washington Chorus. And it's my understanding that this is also a very special year for The Washington Chorus, an anniversary year.
ROGERSYes, this is our 60th season in song, and we had a lot of plans for this year. And it's been -- I have to say that, you know, being new to the DMV community, I think that I feel that sense of love for community and music. And even though it's been tough, I have thoroughly felt embraced and welcomed. And I'm really looking forward to the day when I can actually meet you in person and be with all the singers.
NNAMDIEugene first, and then Michele. Thinking back to March and April when we first started to hear about group singing as a possible super-spreader event, how did that leave you feeling? You first, Eugene.
ROGERSWell, you know, I think there was just so many questions, right, about what can we do? We obviously knew what we couldn't do. But it was really what can we do? So, I personally -- I just needed to go into my quiet place and work with my executive director, Stephen Beaudoin. And we thought, you know, what could we do? And that's, you know, for me, that's where that started. Feeling overwhelmed would be a feeling that I had.
NNAMDIWhat was your initial response, Michele?
FOWLINYou know, I share, I concur with that same feeling of where do we go next? And the kind of person that I am, I don't want to be locked into a box, you know, always trying to think a bit more creatively, especially when you're dealing with young people who have a different level of expectation for entertainment. So, we just went into this place of, you know, let's start of the beginning of what it will look like for virtual choirs and lessons and trying to figure this thing out, step by step. And truthfully, we're still on some processes of step by step, but has is definitely gotten a whole lot better from March to where we are today.
NNAMDIEugene, how have you adapted? How has The Washington Chorus been practicing during the pandemic?
ROGERSYeah, practice for us has been on Zoom, on mute. So, as you can imagine, I am exerting all of this energy and giving feedback about what could sound better in vowels and articulation and seeing mouths moving in hearing no sound. So, that's been a key way. We also had our pro core singers record parts and form click tracks, so that then the singers weren't singing alone. That was important to us, that the singers, even though they were practicing alone, that they had a mechanism by which they could listen to a soprano sing their part with them. And that has made a huge difference, even in this sort of sense of isolation. So, click tracks and Zoom rehearsals is how we have been practicing right now.
NNAMDISteven tweets: As someone who has attended some of The Washington Chorus's rehearsals on Zoom, I have to say Eugene has a brilliant way of making Zoom choir rehearsals interesting, relevant and fun. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation about how choral groups have been making out during this pandemic. We're talking with Dr. Eugene Rogers, the Artistic Director of the Grammy Award-winning ensemble The Washington Chorus, and Michele Fowlin, the Artistic Director for Washington Performing Arts Children of the Gospel Choir. We got a tweet from Shannon, who writes: Listening to Ms. Fowlin now, and I've had the joy of photographing her and her singers over the years and watching her how she encourages and elevates these young singers. In addition to that, here is Mina, in Virginia. Mina, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MINAThank you so much, Kojo, for taking my call. My daughter is a part of COTG. Michele Fowlin's I can say disciple, or her precious little lamb, as she likes to call her students. We are so blessed for her to get into that choir. We tried so many different places and finally we got into COTG. And the first day she came out after the practice, she was all smiley and bubbly, and she got a family in COTG, and I would like to mention she is Indian American, only one on that choir, but everyone makes her feel so welcome. And we are so blessed to have Michele as our director. Thank you.
NNAMDIMichele Fowlin, care to respond?
FOWLINI am appreciative of that. You know, with the young people, it's important to me -- that's the connection. And I'm sure Eugene will agree. This is the main thing that we are missing during this time, and when you have that, that's that thing that, when we go and perform in front of audiences, that they feel so much. They think that they're hearing and loving the music and, yeah, it is that. But it is the connection that has been created, the family bond that's been created between the members, the community that really transforms and transcends the music into something else. So, I'm glad that my students feel this as a space where they're at home. This is family for us.
NNAMDIDr. Eugene Rogers, what do you lose when you're not able to practice in the same space together?
ROGERSWell, exactly -- first and foremost, what Michele just said, that sense of connection and community. I mean, I was shocked, you know. In our virtual offerings, we premiered "A Cantata for a More Hopeful Tomorrow." And you do feel that, when you are together, watching that. There's a sense of that. But there's something about being in that space. Musically, you lose all sorts of things, right? Being able to hear, being able to blend your voice with another person's. There's all sorts of things that get lost, musically, of course. But that sense of community and belonging, there's just nothing like it that we sometimes, I think, have taken for granted. No longer, I think, will choirs ever take that valuable gift that we're giving together.
NNAMDIWell, I'd like to back up a little bit. For those who are less familiar with choral ensembles, Eugene Rogers, what does that mean?
ROGERSChoral ensemble means a group of singers -- and that's the beauty of it -- from any background, any age who can come together for one purpose of sharing the gift of song, in whatever style that is. I mean, that's the beauty of it, as well. It can be opera, gospel, R&B, symphonic chorus, you name it. It's a special, special thing.
NNAMDIMost people associate choirs with churches and with the holiday season and might wonder: What do you do with the rest of the year, Eugene?
ROGERSWell, yeah, you know, for us, The Washington Chorus is a symphonic chorus who predominantly collaborates with the Kennedy Center National Symphony Orchestra and perform major works, also engage with the community. And that's a key part of our organization. So, working side by side with future singers and choirs in the community. Performing secular music, whether it's in a show about Irish music or a show about music theater, opera. I mean, it's a full gamut, in addition to sacred music, during the holidays and otherwise.
NNAMDIPaul emailed us: I'm the director of the GenOUT Chorus, the D.C. area's only vocal ensemble for LGBTQ and allied youth, and one of only nine in the nation. We usually meet at Mount Vernon United Methodist Church on Saturday mornings, and we perform 15 to 20 times annually throughout the Metro area. Since April, we have met online. We continue to rehearse and to prepare virtual choir recordings. And notably, we have used this time to invest in a racial justice program. In every rehearsal we study the history, people and policies of racial injustice, using that information to plan how we can be agents of positive change through our music. You go, Paul. Thank you very much for communicating with us. And here now is Elizabeth in Alexandria, Virginia. Elizabeth, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ELIZABETHKojo, you may recognize me.
NNAMDIOh, I recognize that voice immediately.
ELIZABETHI get to say I'm a first time caller and long-time producer. This is one of my favorite topics, as well. I love -- I'm a long-time choral singer. And I was interested in -- there's been a huge learning curve. I sing in choirs, and we've all had to learn a lot these past several months with COVID. I was curious about what Michele and Eugene have learned technically about music technology that keep these choirs alive and singing. And also, kind of what they've learned about what kind of music works best in these virtual choral environments.
NNAMDIElizabeth Weinstein used to be our choir producer, because, as she pointed out, sings in a chorus. But I'd like to address the question you asked both to Michele and Eugene. Michele, you first.
FOWLINWell, I can start by telling you I have learned more about technology, in general, than I ever thought that I would. And if anyone knows me, they know that this is a weak spot. So, this has forced me into a position of needing to know it. And the programs that we have -- I mean, I was familiar with Garage Band and Sibelius, you know, things of that nature, for production. But now since we're in this virtual setting and we're doing all of these virtual choirs, I have had to do really do some research and some homework and just get a better grounding and understanding to it. It still makes it challenging for any kind of repertoire to sing. Can you imagine gospel music online? You know, you've got the frequencies that are very, very strong.
FOWLINSo, I'm waiting for someone -- and maybe I shouldn't have to wait, I can start putting my own brain power together to come up with a program. And there have been some things out there, like the JackTrip, that has been offered to singers that we could be in a more asynchronous setting and we could really experience that. And I think then I'd be able to figure out a little bit better what kind of repertoire worked easier, or was more efficient and effective online.
NNAMDIWell, you don't want to be waiting for Godot. Eugene Rogers?
ROGERSWell, what I can tell you is I have never been closer to audio engineers in my life. The amount of time spent in the studio -- because we've been recording all of our songs using cell phones. And so, even the last piece you played by us, that was all of the singers in their own homes, because we have global virtual members this year from Singapore and Kentucky and the DMV area. So, everybody, individually, putting that together, gosh, I have spent a lot of time working with audio engineers. And I found the music that works best is music that doesn't have a lot of consonants. Those things you can imagine, trying to line up 150 S's at that the same, it's a nightmare for an engineer. And music that more homophonic, which means music that basically the rhythm and the melody moves together. And so that tends to go over better, I find, in this sort of virtual world of choral singing, based on my experience.
NNAMDIWell, I know how you feel. I have spent more time with audio engineers since I've been working from home than I had before. A matter of fact, one of our audio engineers today even wants to sing, but we won't go there. Alex writes on our Facebook page: I'm a manager for classical musicians based in Herndon. Our arts are normally appearing in venues all over the world. It's a very dark and challenging time. We're going to take a short break. When you come back, you'll meet Nia Frazier, a Singer with the Washington Performing Arts Children of the Gospel Choir. Still waiting for somebody to sing for us. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation about how choral groups are making out during this time of pandemic. We're talking with Michele Fowlin, the artistic director for Washington Performing Arts Children of the Gospel Choir. Dr. Eugene Rogers, the Artistic Director of the Grammy award-winning ensemble, The Washington Chorus. He's a two-time Emmy award-winner and Grammy nominee. Eugene, in an interview with The Washington Informer, you talk about what it was like to be the only Black person in your graduate and doctorate programs. What was that experience like for you?
ROGERSYou know, gosh, that's a tough question, but what I would say is there were times when it was extremely rewarding, because I learned so much from my colleagues who had such disparate background than me. And then other times where it felt rather isolated, right, where the things that I learned as a boy, you know, that music -- all music is good music, gospel, R&B, opera, classical. But how, at sometimes, I felt like I had to leave a part of myself or check a part of myself at the door because there was such a Eurocentric focus.
ROGERSAnd so, I feel like we've come a long way in the academy, but that, of course was challenging. And also, I'd say a part of that was feeling a sense of responsibility, wanting to make sure, being the first to get that doctorate from my institution, that I represented my community well, in whatever way that was. I didn't want to let anybody down so the door could be open for others to come behind me. So, in the end, it's been very rewarding. I'm honored to say now I'm the head of that program, so that was completed unexpected.
ROGERSBut I'm glad I stuck it out, and I would share that with any young person. Sometimes you are the only one, but hang in there. Find the good, even in the midst of sometimes what can feel very isolating.
NNAMDIWe actually got a tweet from the Washington Performing Arts saying: Michele Fowlin is a constant inspiration, and so are the singers of the Children of the Gospel Choir. And speaking of the singers of the Children of the Gospel Choir, we'd now like to bring Nia Frazier into this conversation. Nia is a singer with the Washington Performing Arts Children of the Gospel Choir. She's a sophomore in high school. Nia Frazier, thank you for joining us.
NIA FRAZIERThank you for having me. This is so exciting.
NNAMDIExciting for me, too, Nia. I'm curious. When did you first become interested in singing?
FRAZIERI first became interested in singing when I was about five, I believe. I was in the church choir for a few years, and then in choirs in elementary school, and that progressed onto middle school. So, singing has always kind of been something that I did in school, mainly. But then when I joined Children of the Gospel, it became an out-of-school thing, and I took it a lot more seriously than I did prior.
NNAMDIHow long have you been a part of the Children of the Gospel Choir?
FRAZIERThis is my second year in Children of the Gospel, but I had been watching Children of the Gospel for about two or three years before I joined, because I had a neighbor who was in it. So, I would go to their different performances at the Kennedy Center. And I would see them, and I was, like, that seems so amazing. Like, I want to be in there. I want to do that. So, I auditioned, and I made it in.
NNAMDIWhat was the audition like?
FRAZIERThe audition began with an online audition. So, you submitted two videos of you singing the Star Spangled Banner. And then you also had to sing a selection of your choice. And then you would get a callback if they liked your online audition. And you'd go in person, and you have a musicianship test, which is sight reading and if you can clap beats, and if you can sing rhythms and things like that.
FRAZIERAnd then you would also have a section where you sing those two songs that you snag in your online audition. And then there was a section where you had to dance. So, for me, the audition process, it was a bit nerve-racking, just because I had never auditioned for something like that before. So, yeah, but it was a great learning experience.
NNAMDIWell, you said you were excited to be talking on this show, but how do you feel when you're singing?
FRAZIERWhen I'm singing, I feel a sense of relief. It's a sense of being able to be connected to different people, especially when we were in person and you would have an audience in front of you and you could connect with the audience and you could move people. You could make people happy, you could make people cry. And just being able to have that connection with an audience and also the connection with your choir and the people around you. And, yeah, so I definitely feel a sense of connection. I feel a sense of freedom, as well.
NNAMDIWhat has this time, the pandemic, been like for you?
FRAZIERIt's been a time of self-reflection. It's been a time of learning what I really love and being able to just become closer to other people. I know that sounds strange, but definitely closer to my family, because we're all stuck here with each other. And, you know, there is no football practices, there are no basketball practices, there's no choir rehearsals and there's no really being able to go anywhere. So, being able to be closer with my family, being able to look in the mirror and look at myself and just say, what do I need to do to make me a better person?
NNAMDII'd like to play another song from the Children of the Gospel Choir. This one is called "Why Do We Sing?"
NNAMDIMichele Fowlin, tell us about this song, "Why Do We Sing?"
FOWLINOh, wow. I was introduced to this song a few years back by another one of the directors who had come in to work with our summer camps, who is actually the artistic director now of The Men and Women of Washington Performing Arts. And I was totally taken by the lyrics of this song. And it has become the COTG theme. Every year, it is introduced to the students and, I think, as time goes on it definitely has taken on new meaning. It is something totally different from six, seven years ago, to what it means for me today and how I would even teach the piece. It's powerful, and it's just representative of who we are and why we do what we do.
NNAMDINia, what does this song mean to you?
FRAZIER"Why Do We Sing" definitely is just -- it could be about anything. It could be about why do we sing about God, why do we sing about social injustice? And so, for me, you can connect the song to several different themes. "Why Do We Sing," it was introduced to me for the first time last year when coronavirus had just broken out. So, you know, of course, everyone in the choir is just like, you know, we're still in this choir. We're not really able to be with each other. Are we really a choir? Like, how we doing this?
FRAZIERSo, for me, it was like, why do I sing when it's just me? Why do I sing when I can't be connected to, you know, my friends in the choir? So, for me, it just became almost like a COVID anthem of why I keep going.
NNAMDIFascinating. Here, now, is Ben in Arlington, Virginia. Ben you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BENHi, Mr. Nnamdi. Thank you so much for taking my call. As a member of the U.S. Army Chorus, it's been a lot of fun to stay connected to our audiences through virtual programs. We've even held auditions successfully and come together in very distant spaces. We're grateful for the National Presbyterian Church for lending us the beautiful acoustic of their space to record some pieces for them. We also use the wonderful technology of singing masks, which sort of give you a full on duck bill extending from your face to keep things safe and healthy for all of our members.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call and for your service in more ways than one, Ben. On now to Doris in Washington, D.C. Doris, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DORISThank you so much for taking my call. Michele Fowlin, this is Doris Brown from New Bethel Baptist Church. I just wanted to tell you how much I love you and miss you. And I was so happy that I read on Facebook this morning that you are going to be on with Kojo Nnamdi this morning. Thank you so much. I just wanted to say how much I love you.
FOWLINOh, thank you. Love you, too.
NNAMDIKelly tweets: The leadership skills taught by the Washington Chorus and the sense of community responsibility and citizenship instilled in the youth is truly remarkable. Miss you all. Eugene Rogers, the song we heard during the break earlier was a recording from the Washington Chorus of "Mary Had a Baby." I'd like to play a bit more of it.
NNAMDIEugene, what can you tell us about this rendition of the song?
ROGERSSure. Well, for me, the holiday is about brining everyone's tradition. And I grew up with the gospel music and wanted to program something from that. And we have a side-by-side part of our program, so that's Duke Ellington's School of the Arts and the Washington Chorus singing Roland Carter's classic gospel arrangement of "Mary Had a Baby." And I thought it was just another heartwarming way to celebrate our diversity in the Washington Chorus.
ROGERSPart of our mission is inclusion and diversity, and so that's what I wanted to share with them. It's a new piece for them, you know. That's a symphonic chorus and a little bit of gospel, but I'm proud of them. Our guest soloist was Nichole Joseph, a member of my EXIGENCE ensemble. She's a fantastic soprano, as you can hear. So, it was a special moment for us to work with the Duke Ellington on this.
NNAMDIHow do you approach a piece of music, I'm curious, and how much do you adapt and use creative license in that process?
ROGERSWell, gosh, you know, for me, you know, it depends on the style of music. You now, some music is intended to be freely performed, where there's artistic license to improvise. This is one of those styles. The soloist is not singing everything that's on the page, right, because it would lose so much to sing those notes.
ROGERSBut if you're doing something by, you know, a composer who really dictates their markings, articulations, more of a classical tradition than our concert music, I would, you know, say that that probably is not meant to be improvisational, more in line, exactly. But that depends, as well, on, again, the style and the composer. So, this style has a bit more freedom in the essence of the style. So, hopefully, we achieve that, even in a Zoom virtual format. (laugh)
NNAMDIWell, we actually got a tweet from The Washington Chorus that says, little known fact about Eugene Rogers for you: In addition to being a marvelous conductor, he has a lovely baritone voice. That's meaningful to me, because I too have a baritone voice, except that I can't sing, and Eugene actually can. And I've heard him sing before. (laugh)
ROGERS(laugh) Oh, gosh. Kojo, I bet you could sing. I'd love to hear you. (laugh)
NNAMDIEugene, let's talk about Candlelight Christmas. We've got to talk about that. What is this event, and how have you adapted it for the COVID-19 era?
ROGERSSure. The Candlelight Christmas is an annual concert that usually is held both at the Music Center at Strathmore Hall, as well as the Kennedy Center. This year, we wanted to obviously follow safety guidelines, and so we have all of our singers are participating virtually in some of those numbers, so, the recordings. And then we had eight singers and several soloists who actually came to the Music Center at Strathmore that came to film part of the concert.
ROGERSSo, part of it is filmed live, part of it is recorded virtually. And there'll be three performances streamed of that the 18th, the 19th and the 20th. And folks, if they can't make those dates, can still purchase a ticket and watch it through December 31st. And it's an annual tradition of the Washington Chorus. And this is a very unique time for us to not be altogether for sometimes up to six performance of this concert, where we sing traditional carols, favorites, as well as new holiday tunes, as well. So, we hope folks will tune in and join us for our virtual, intimate Candlelight Christmas.
NNAMDIWe got an email from David, who writes: I'm a recording engineer and videographer who works with a lot of D.C. area's choirs and ensembles. I was effectively unemployed for six months until a lot of these virtual productions began in September. I now have more work than I possibly know what to do with. Thank you for those who are continuing to support these vital arts institutions during this challenging time. And thank you for your email, David. Michele, for the Children of the Gospel Choir, how are this season's holiday performances different?
FOWLINWell, we have definitely missed out on being in front of the audience for various concert performances, but we're doing it online. So, we're getting ready on the 23rd of this month to release our holiday gift to the world. And so, we hope that you all will tune in and chime in to Facebook and to the IG and to the YouTube Channel and get information at WashingtonPerformingArts.org, as well, if you plan on joining us.
NNAMDIHere now is Kara in Greenbelt, Maryland. Kara, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KARAHello, Kojo. Thank you for having me. Michele, this is Kara, Colida Ben Cortz (ph) grandmother and a devoted fan of COTG. I just wanted to say I'm so proud of the choir and all the work that all of you do to nurture and mentor these children. I have seen them grow from just being rowdy to just coming together and putting out the most beautiful music I've ever heard. And I really do miss your concerts, even though Colida's graduated. I wish I could still come and hear you guys sing, because it is absolutely beautiful.
NNAMDISo, you don't miss the rowdy part of Colida anymore at all? (laugh)
KARAOh, no. I'm the grandmother. I hear it all the time. She's (unintelligible) all the time, but it's something different when they come together as a choir. It's very special.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. Michele, do you think any of these virtual changes will be permanent, or are you really very much looking forward to being able to perform in person, indoors once again?
FOWLINI think the positive side of this is that it is going to be a part of our new normal. You know, we, as directors, who have now found a new creative expression with these virtual choirs, we can tap into it. But we're excited about getting on the stage. This is what we were built for. This is what God created us to do, to be on the stage and to connect and to offer up our ministry to others.
NNAMDIHere now is Neal in Potomac, Maryland. Neal, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
NEALOh, hi, Kojo. I just want to say, as a senior, I've been singing with a group that had been local, is now national because of remote singing calling Encore, EncoreCreativity.org. I've been singing for many, many years in different groups, you know, high school, Army, etcetera, etcetera And one of the things I've learned as we are preparing for a concert in a week or so is how much reliant I am on the director.
NEALWhen you're sitting there to tape your voice that'll be synchronized with all these other voices, there's nobody there giving you directions as to when to come in, when to, you know, stop, etcetera. And I have renewed respect for directors. Not that I never did respect them, but I didn't realize how reliant I was on them all these years.
NNAMDIEugene Rogers, has this pandemic caused you -- so to speak, in sporting terms -- to raise your game to a new level? (laugh)
ROGERS(laugh) I mean, everything's so unique, you know. I don't know if you know about our fall event, it was a movie, a short music film about an elderly couple who were separated from COVID-19. And, I mean, we would've never done that before. And we filmed it in Michigan, and we filmed it in D.C. And there were so many aspects of that. And so, I think it really has caused us to raise our game in creativity.
ROGERSYou know, now we're doing carols on demand, where people can specially order a personalized Christmas tune. You know, I mean, that's something we wouldn't have done in the past, you know. And so that's, I think -- yes, musically you're raised your game, but I think innovation is where we have had to really try to raise our game.
NNAMDIWe got a tweet from Hope, who says: I'm part of the youth gospel choir. I love my choir director and the family bond we have. Being part of a choir, you're able to express so much of yourself. I love it. I've grown so much as an individual and singer with being a part of this choir. I'd like to get back to you, Nia Frazier. What has helped you, Nia, to keep a positive attitude, despite the fact that you're performing only virtually at this time?
FRAZIERWhat's has enabled me to continue to have a positive attitude is definitely still having Zooms every week and being able to -- you know, even though it's virtual, but still being able to speak with people still and still be able to connect with my director and everything like that.
FRAZIERAnd also, we talk to each other outside of choir. We text each other outside of choir. We began to do some social distance recordings, as well, for a few songs. So, being able to do that has really, really been a blessing. And that has definitely encouraged me to keep going.
NNAMDIMichele Fowlin, same question to you. What has helped you to stay positive, in spite of all the obstacles that have been thrown your way this year?
FOWLINKnowing that things are going to get better, and that I am seeing the positives out of this most interesting, unique situation, and growing more, not only as a musician, but as an individual, keeps me going.
NNAMDISam question to you, Dr. Eugene Rogers. What helps you to stay positive, in spite of all of the obstacles that you've had to deal with from the very beginning of your tenure with the Washington Chorus? (laugh)
ROGERSYou know, in all honesty, two things. The energy and creativity of my colleagues at the Washington Chorus, as well as seeing those singers who show up week after week to sing on mute. I mean, seeing over 100 people online, that's encouraging. And that speaks about the power of this artform and community. And that keeps me going, in all honesty.
NNAMDIWell, we got a tweet from Margaret, who says: I am not religious, but music, especially singing together with my family, harmonizing on all those carols, is the thing that brings me deep joy and hope around Christmas. It's nice to hear how local singers are still making music this season. And, Michele Fowlin, what has been the general attitude of the young people you have been working with during these trying times?
FOWLINAbsolutely positive. And they're just ready and excited. They love singing, but, again, it's just the coming together and being connected and an opportunity to have a time to release and a time of relief.
NNAMDIWow. Before we go, I would like to ask Michele, again, to tell us, for listeners who are looking to tune in, where can they find the performances?
FOWLINSo, by all means, please go to WashingtonPerformingArts.org. You can hit the tab that says gospel choirs. You can look for us on Facebook or under the Washington Performing Arts Gospel Choirs. We do have twitter and an IG. We are social media-ready for you. And we will definitely be pushing out a whole bunch of advertisements so that you'll have all the information.
NNAMDIMichele Fowlin, Dr. Eugene Rogers and Nia Frazier, thank you all for joining us. Today's segment on local choirs was produced by Julie Depenbrock. Coming up tomorrow, we'll speak with the pastor of the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church, following his place of worship being vandalized by Proud Boys over the weekend.
NNAMDIThen in 2019, Prince George's County received the fourth-highest number of unaccompanied children in the country. So, what is the school district doing to make sure they excel? That all starts at noon, tomorrow. To close the show, I'd like to go out with one last song from the Washington Chorus. If you've been listening this hour, all of our music has been by the Washington Chorus and the Children of the Gospel Choir. Until noon tomorrow, thank you for listening, and stay safe. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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