Gospel takes stage at Proms

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The Independent Online
The London Adventist Chorale will take to the Royal Albert Hall stage next month for the first full Prom concert devoted to gospel music, writes a staff reporter.

While the choir's appearance will surprise people who associate the annual Prom concerts with classical music, the decision to invite the Adventist Chorale reflects attempts to broaden their appeal and their range.

Late-night jazz, for instance, has become popular in recent years. But this year, Nicholas Kenyon, the controller of BBC Radio 3 and the man responsible for this, the 102nd season of the Proms, has also organised concerts of songs from American musicals by Rodgers and Hart, Gershwin and Sondheim; Indian drum music from Calcutta; a Duke Ellington work, Harlem; and a Junior Prom for children.

Ken Burton, the Adventist Chorale's musical director, said they were looking forward to the appearance on 4 August with a "mixture of excitement and fear" although they were slightly surprised by the invitation. "The Proms are normally classical," he said, "though I saw a poster at the Tube station the other day for South American music so I know they're trying to expand on the global music."

But they were thrilled to have been asked to take part. Mr Burton, 26, said: "I'm very, very happy that we've been given the privilege of performing in the largest music festival in the world and that gospel music is getting this exposure. As people see more of it, I'm sure it will be taken more seriously."

The choir will sing spirituals, including popular numbers such as "Nobody Knows The Troubles I've Seen", because they are the "roots of gospel", Mr Burton said.

"They're really the earliest form of gospel music. Performing spirituals unaccompanied is our staple diet - we're just doing the things that we're used to."

The choir draws its members from Adventist churches across London where singing is an integral part of worship. Mr Burton said it was a form of spreading the Gospel. "Music is a powerful tool in getting the message across to people. It has the greatest importance in our services - it's as important as prayer."

Currently all members are black. "But we don't have a policy of exclusion. We did have a Spanish girl, but she's gone back to Spain now."

Mr Burton studied piano and singing at Goldsmiths' College, London. He now runs gospel music workshops and masterclasses in the UK, Holland and Ireland, as well as teaching and conducting.

He became musical director of the London Adventist Chorale in 1990, although his family connections go back further. "My sister was one of the original members when it started in 1982," he said.

The choir has grown in success and popularity since then, performing at events as diverse as Gay Byrne's Late Late Show on Irish television and the Henley Festival. After its Prom it will head north for the Edinburgh Jazz Festival and the Two Cathedrals Festival in Derry in Northern Ireland.