For months I looked forward to the weekend of May 19-21 at my church. Bethany United Methodist Church, Austin’s Chancel Choir and Orchestra – I sing baritone – would be joined by the choir from Wesley United Methodist Church, Austin to perform Rosephanye Powell’s Gospel Trinity. The performance is a four-movement choral work in the Black gospel style which infuses the imagination of singer and listener alike to the great mystery and great joy that is the Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Our choir and orchestra had been preparing Gospel Trinity since January. From our rehearsals and from a YouTube video of a Gospel Trinity performance, all of our singers and instrumentalists knew what an exciting and special worship experience to expect. Dr. Rosephanye Powell, would be with us that weekend as vocal soloist and narrator for three worship services. A dynamic and engaging vocalist, Rosephanye Powell has been hailed as one of America’s premier women composers of choral music. A voice professor at Auburn University, Dr. Powell’s research focuses on the art of the African-American spiritual.
During our five months of preparation, our choir worked on the movements of Gospel Trinity during weekly Wednesday-night choir practice. We memorized much of the music under the direction of Bethany UMC Director of Music Ministry Curt Olson. The Bethany Orchestra was learning the orchestration for Gospel Trinity on Thursday nights. LaMonica Lewis of Wesley UMC was leading her choir through the same challenging harmonies and rhythms that would all come together during one momentous weekend of worship. The musicians’ anticipation grew each week during our winter and spring rehearsals as we gradually mastered Gospel Trinity.
Finally the long-awaited weekend arrived. The Bethany and Wesley UMC choirs rehearsed together for the first time. Rosephanye Powell was there too. In addition to working on notes and rhythms, Dr. Powell taught us the proper pronunciation, phrasing, and expression for her composition. The two choirs were joined by the Bethany Orchestra for the dress rehearsal on Saturday morning. It was the first time the three musical groups and Dr. Powell had rehearsed Gospel Trinity together. With pointers from Dr. Powell, the collection of 90 vocalists and 30 instrumentalists fine-tuned the music in preparation for the worship service later that afternoon.
Later that day, our combined voices and instruments performed Gospel Trinity with Rosephanye Powell as vocal soloist and narrator. We also performed Dr. Powell’s arrangement of the spiritual I Wanna Be Ready, with Dr. Powell as vocal soloist, piano accompaniment, and combined choirs. The performance was repeated at two Sunday morning worship services. Worship attendance swelled that weekend, as Bethany UMC members and visitors were joined by members of Wesley UMC. Worship attendance for the three Gospel Trinity services topped 1400.
The Sunday morning 11:00 am worship service was the most memorable for me. During Gospel Trinity’s fourth and final movement “Gloria Patri,” the congregation in Bethany UMC’s packed Worship Center was standing, clapping, and swaying to the inspiring music, along with the choirs. I had never felt such a feeling of oneness with the musicians, the congregation, and the Holy Spirit. Dr. Powell’s powerful message was, “Some of you need to hear that God knows you are hurting, but God is faithful, God loves you, and God is always with you.”
At the conclusion of the last worship service, the choir members filed down from the choir loft. Rosephanye Powell stood at the bottom of the stairs, sharing handshakes and hugs with each of us. Reflecting on the wonderful music and the total experience of the weekend, I whispered to her, “You don’t know how much good you did here this weekend. Thank you.”
The following article was written by James Rank of Bethany UMC, Austin