Eastern University’s Angels of Harmony performed a fantastic show, appropriately titled Gospel Explosion, joining together with the dance group Precious Movements to deliver a night filled with energetic praise and worship. The gospel group Angels of Harmony has been around for 45 years, and is now directed by Nneka Davis. Davis herself has a wonderful voice, and infused the night with beautiful vocals and words of praise.
As a high-church Anglican, I was caught off guard at the unreserved and charismatic nature of gospel music. Though of course I knew other traditions existed, I had never experienced a gospel service before, even though the style gave birth to the first truly American sacred music. The history of Gospel music in America is a rich one, and gave birth to many sub-genres of music that are still familiar to many today. Gospel music originated around the time of the Great Awakening in 1734. As Christianity in America was revitalized and became more passionate, the music used during church services reflected this change. Hymns became faster-paced and emotional as church revival swept the nation. The term “gospel music” actually encompasses three different types of music that sprung from this change of pace in the American church. The upbeat musical style quickly became popular in the Southern states, as enslaved African-Americans began to see similarities between their bondage and the bondage of Moses and God’s people in Egypt. This cultural fusion gave birth to many Spirituals and Protestant hymns. Another “sub-genre” of gospel music is White Southern Gospel, which has elements of bluegrass and country music. The soundtrack of “O Brother Where Art Thou” is an example of this type of gospel music.
The Angels of Harmony; however, seem most aligned with the sub-genre of Black Gospel, which originated in California Pentecostal churches and features heavy jazz and blues influences. Black Gospel music typically features a call-and-response style, sometimes featuring a soloist who improvises and adds to the melody. This repetition and call-and-response style of music made it easy for the audience to participate during the Gospel Explosion concert, and the Angels of Harmony encouraged the audience to dance and sing along. The Gospel Explosion performance also featured two different readings from the Psalms and an encouraging message and prayer, which made the experience seem more like a worship service than simply a concert. It was obvious the groups wanted the time to be a truly worshipful and prayerful experience.
The Precious Movements dance group also performed a powerful piece advocating against succumbing to peer pressure. The group danced to a spoken-word piece that explicitly referenced saying no to drugs, alcohol, and smoking. The dance fit well into the encouraging theme of the night, and helped add to the church-like nature of the time. Gospel Explosion was a wonderful way for those who have never experienced a gospel performance to become introduced to different ways of worship. They did a good job of involving the audience in their performance, but also making those who hadn’t experienced gospel-style worship feel comfortable. Overall, it was a dynamic and worshipful performance.