Angels we have heard on high

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 8, 2006

By Scott Jenkins

Salisbury Post

On Dec. 17, choir members from half a dozen Salisbury churches will come together to make a joyful noise and, hope those taking part in the concert, continue building bridges across racial divides.

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, 131 W. Council St., will host the community Christmas concert featuring singers from its choir and the choirs of five predominantly black churches.

The holiday concert grew out of the experience the churches had working together in October on a special program for visitors from sister city Salisbury, England.

Dr. Phillip Burgess, St. Luke’s choirmaster, said local officials appreciated the blending of black and white choirs and its part in the city’s efforts to improve race relations. The singers liked it, too.

“A lot of our choir members said can’t we do something like this at Christmas, and I asked if there was interest, and there was,” he said.

Burgess contacted Ernestine Ingram, former minister of music at Gethsemane Missionary Baptist Church. She invited nearly two dozen black churches to take part and six responded, she said.

From those churches, about 60 singers have formed the group that will perform a week from Sunday. They will be accompanied by organ, piano, flute, violin, clarinet and harp.

Ingram said the experience of working together earlier this year “was beautiful and different for us to go into a church like St. Luke’s … a predominantly caucasian membership with such openness and anticipation that other churches in the historic district would be participating.”

Many singers from the black churches aren’t used to performing formal choral music, she said, but they enjoyed it so much during the October program that they wanted to take part in the Christmas concert, which will offer a mixture of traditional Christmas music and spirituals.

Ingram said she hopes people attending the concert “see a choir generally that was well-prepared with seasonal music that enhanced their holiday spirit.

“But on a personal level, I hope they feel some of what we’re feeling, that there’s a cooperation at work in Salisbury, among at least blacks and whites, that is a beneficial start of maybe something that can continue to grow, to have fewer divisions and more inclusiveness,” she said.

Ingram said she knows the concert may not make a huge difference in bringing people of different races together across the community, “but I think it’s chipping away at the ugliness that keeps us divided. … It’s helping those who are participating.”

The choirs will continue chipping away at those divides with a February concert at Gethsemane Baptist Church for Black History Month.

“We’re doing our best to keep this group together to sing, because they just have a ball singing together,” Burgess said.

And they’re making a difference, one joyful noise at a time.

“Anytime you bring people together to sing, it knocks down any sort of barriers,” he said. “It’s just a great way of communicating among people.”

Other churches participating in the concert are: Soldiers Memorial AME Zion, Crown in Glory Lutheran, First Calvary Baptist and Trinity Presbyterian Church USA.

Soloists will be Phyllis Partee, Dr. Grant Harrison and Teresa Moore.

The concert starts at 4 p.m. and will last about an hour and 15 minutes, Burgess said. A reception will follow. There is no charge to attend.

Contact Scott Jenkins at 704-797-4248 or