Gospel a Venezia

In Atlanta, I sing (sang?) in a Sanctuary Mass Choir at Oakhurst Presbyterian Church. Last Saturday night, I went to a concert at the first annual Venice Gospel Festival at the site of the Venice Film Festival on Lido. WHAT a trip.


The choir at Oakhurst is diverse in every way, as is the congregation (outside of my friends, that choir and a garbage disposal are pretty much the only things I miss here). Ms. Joanne Price is the choir director, and she’s been singing and praising God all her life (practically every minute of as nearly as I can tell); she is a joy and a walking inspiration. There is only her piano accompaniment when the mass choir sings, although certainly there are many gospel choirs who go all out with electronic and live band accompaniment.

So what does this have to do with Venice? Nothing, I would have thought.

I met private guide Andrea d’Alpaos (originally from Murano) several years ago, purely by chance. He’s an gracious, generous and obviously well-studied guide, but in our conversation I learned that he was first and foremost a musician and composer, and an affascinato of gospel music. He had recently made a trip to Georgia and Atlanta to hear a variety of gospel choirs there, and following that, had formed his own here in Venice, called Joysingers, along with an ongoing workshop for anyone interested in learning more about singing gospel music.

This year, he and his cohorts have organized the first annual Venice Gospel Festival, with open-air samples at the Rialto market, workshops, concerts by the kids on Friday night and adult choirs on Saturday, and a church service on Sunday. Vedi come le cose si svolgano? (See how things come around?)

I attended the concert on Saturday night on Lido. There was a full house, and it’s not a small venue. Four choirs performed a half-hour apiece, each with a full band backup. Three of the choirs were Italian (Andrea’s Joysingers were one, of course), every one excellent, with their own distinct approach; and with so much to overcome in style and language, it was quite impressive. The last one, the Wood Green Gospel Choir from London, was in fact a gospel choir by origin. You could tell, because the participants were all African American, not European, and the first thing the director said was, “We’re here to praise God!” I’m not sure just how many people understood him precisely, but I think they got it.

I’m fascinated by this whole phenomenon, because gospel music by definition comes from and is about praising God, and to experience such devotion to it outside of that context is, well, curious. For whatever reason, gospel music is gaining popularity all over Europe, or so I hear. And although it’s not obvious that God or the gospel is specifically at the base of it all…neither am I sure it matters much in the end. It’s always such a joy, though, to see people doing something they love to do, almost as well as it can be done.

As an exported commodity, it certainly beats fast food…

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