Hallelujah! Singers spread the gospel singing goes public

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The Independent Online
Gospel singing, always associated with black American religious music, is now being taken up by secular white men and women in Britain, eager to share in the exhilaration and community spirit that the singing brings.

Lessons for what has been traditionally church and spiritual music are being sold almost in the terminology of aerobics classes. A 10-week course which started yesterday at the Jacksons Lane Community Centre in Highgate, north London, proclaimed in its advertisements: "Enjoy the exhilaration . . . breath control, gospel harmonisations, vocal technique and projection . . . join this soulful, melodic, funky and inspiring session."

Tutor Delrio Levale stresses that he wants students who do not come from a conventional religious background to enjoy the music and celebrate a positive message.

Mr Levale grew up singing gospel in a black gospel church in London, affiliated to an American church. He was then part of The Inspirational Choir, a gospel outfit that sang on a record by the group Madness called "The Wings Of A Dove". Now he runs the first gospel singing classes to be accredited as an examination course.

"I've long felt that there's a need to bring it out of the church," said Mr Levale.

"For a start, the gospel is supposed to be taken out of the church. But this is not a religious class. It's a music class. On the social level it's an enjoyable free for all. On the singing level it is based on new breathing techniques. And there is a spontaneous live feel, and experience of what it is like to be in a gospel choir with the clapping, the swaying and the dancing."

One convert is Helen Woodock, 30, a musician, who wanted to take up a singing course and had never done any gospel singing before. "I believe in God but I wouldn't say I was religious," she said.

"The point of this is that it's so positive and soulful it puts you on a natural high. The gospel music took hold of me because of the power in it. It must have been lovely to have grown up in the atmosphere of a black gospel environment.

"The class has all occupations, nurses, clerical workers, students. And it has black, white, Greek, Jewish, a 50-year-old and a nine-year-old, all clapping their hands and singing. It's a great atmosphere.

"And the words we sing as `if you should go astray you can always come back home' are spiritual, but not too in-your-face religious."