On Sunday, July 16, 2017, the massed choir for the Louisiana Missionary Baptist State Convention will sing over a dozen songs at its musical at the W.L. “Jack” Howard Theater. The choir, comprised of members from churches throughout the city, has been rehearsing for months in preparation for the annual convention. Held in Monroe this year, the convention is set to bring in hundreds of visitors from around the state of Louisiana as they focus on Christian Education for a week. The host moderator for this year’s convention is Rev. Ike Byrd, III, of Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church.
The musical is being coordinated by Rev. John L. Russell, Jr. A number of other associate directors including: Seane Kelley (First Baptist), Charles Lacy (Zion Traveler), Dexter Moffitt (New St. James/Calvary), and David Starr (Mt. Olivet), will also direct musical selections at the event. I will be playing organ along with Blake Wright on the drums.
It has been a few years since the convention was held in Monroe. This will be the first year that the late Roosevelt Pine and Samuel Douglas will not be present. They have certainly left their mark on the Monroe community of church singers and musicians. During the rehearsals, their names have come up constantly as a way to teach songs, how to sing them, and the occasional question “What would Mr. Pine do.” Although much of the black church attempts to lean more to praise and worship services, convention goers can expect a traditional praise celebration, packed with hymns, anthems, contemporary praise, and the gospels. There are even a few spirituals in the mix.
Three of the musical selections are written by local musicians, two of which will be directing. Minister Seane Kelley will direct his arrangement of the song “When he calls me”, an a capella selection that was well received by the 70 plus member choral group. Although she won’t be directing, one of the singers, Crystal Martin-Williams, composed the song “Sold out for Christ”. It is an up tempo foot stomping old school church selection to be directed by Kelley. Dexter Moffitt, the pianist at New St. James and Calvary Baptist, wrote a beautiful selection entitled “All the Praises” of which she will direct. Look for it. It has a great melody and uplifting lyrics.
I won’t give away the other songs as musical goers should be hyped up with anticipation for the celebration and come expecting to be blessed. There have been some rehearsals where there was shouting, crying, and extended song rehearsal. The spirit has moved through many churches used to host the rehearsals. The choir has rehearsed at New Light, Riverside, New Antioch, New St. James, Mt. Zion, St. James #2, and First Baptist. Some of the songs required more rehearsal time than others, especially the spirituals and anthems. The choir members have been a very dedicated set as they have clocked in many hours of their time for this effort. Almost every week since February, there has been a rehearsal. When it was cold, they were there. When it was raining outside, they were there. Even when the church A/C was slow to cool down, they still sat and learned their parts.
It has been a great fellowship with just the rehearsals alone. I have enjoyed the experience. I especially have enjoyed the challenge to hone in on reading music from the sheet, and not just listening to a popular song on YouTube and singing it. It’s what Pine and Douglas would have preferred. The musicians have not only been challenged, but the choir members who don’t always sing at this level of choral perfection had an opportunity to look at the sheet and at least know what their part looks like. I’m sure many of the choir members will take these songs back to their churches and include them in the regular material over the course of the next year along with what they get from Atlanta in the next two weeks at the Gospel Music Workshop. I guess that’s the point of all of this anyway. A chance for Christians to come together at least once a year and fellowship with like interests. Christian Education will be focused on for the week at Carroll High School, but for the 70 plus singers in the choir, it has been a great six months of christian music education.
So if you want to be blessed with a spiritual praise experience, this year’s state convention musical will be the place to be. They’ve already preached the word through song in the rehearsals. On Sunday, they will sing it one last time that none of what they sing about, none of the tears they shed, and none of the shouting they emit is for their own glory.