This week at the UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) Music Bowl, the UCSB Gospel Choir performed a stellar show for the World Music Series. The ensemble is made up of only vocals and one keyboardist, led by the talented Bryan Brown.
The group sang and played gospel songs that were written as hymns of praise to be sung traditionally in a Christian church. The choir’s vocals were powerful, lush, and in sync, while Brown’s keyboard playing was flawless and coordinated. The sound of the group reminded me of my childhood days of going to church, yet was even more beautiful.
The first song they played was “Trust Me,” which was a slow and caring song written from God’s perspective, reassuring His children. The piece was nurturing and hopeful, featured pensive yet stately piano, and the choir was entirely in unison for the whole song.
The second song was “Making A Way,” which was quite a change of pace from the previous one. This song was upbeat and joined by the choir’s clapping. I found this song to be incredibly catchy, and the male voices really stood out on this song. Seeing the choir move along to the music created a lighter atmosphere than any of the previous shows, making for quite a jovial performance.
Following that song was “We Are One,” a harmonically dense piece whose lightheartedness contrasted with the slowness of the performance. In fact, a strength of Gospel music is that whether in a major or minor key, slow or fast, the hopeful lyrics about God and heaven ensure that no song is tragic or even melancholy. Each song is hopeful at the very least and exultant at best.
This particular song’s deep harmonies were complemented by the piano playing which allowed for occasional rhythmic spaces that served as a sort of magnifying glass to how lush the vocal performance was.
The fourth song performed was “Sacrifice of My Praise.” This song started with a beautifully dramatic and melodic piano solo, leading into the alto singers getting some spotlight, after which all the male voices came in to create different layers to the song.
Finally, the sopranos came in to counter the melody with a rhythmic chant. The piano would once again leave a beat or two of silence in order to highlight the quality of the vocals, making for quite a complex choral performance.
Last in the lineup was the song “Open Your Mouth and Say Something,” which was fast, upbeat, and energetic. Like last time, each vocal range came in one at a time and this song was so lively that the choir even danced to it.
The tunes of the catchy and bluesy piano were on fire as the whole audience clapped along and sang to the musical harmony that filled the atmosphere. This was the perfect song to end the show with, and it’s safe to say that the UCSB Gospel Choir took everyone to church that day.
These World Music Series displays a sense of community and talent precious to the UCSB campus and is showcased on Wednesdays at 12 p.m. in the Music Bowl.