How eight still make a joyful noise to the Lord

15 November 2006


By Roderic Dunnett

FORTY-EIGHT years ago, four brothers felt moved by the Spirit to begin performing gospel music together in public in their native Texas. They had a natural gift for it, and their talent flowered.

Their obvious love of the music they performed and their remarkable musicality soon attracted an enthusiastic following. It was their father who suggested for the Reed brothers, and their young friends who soon joined them, the title Zion Jubilee choir.

On a first visit to the UK, these now statesman-like figures performed to packed churches and village halls of the Penkridge archdeaconry in Staffordshire. An early port of call was the attractive acoustic of St Mary’s, Wheaton Aston. Relaxed and personable, in their purple-tinged attire, this radiant eightsome looked like a conference of bishops.

A brightly coloured wall hanging in the south aisle proclaims: “Welcome, let the Son shine in”. That really describes the spirit of the whole concert. Their vitality soon had an initially hesitant audience clapping along.

What struck one with the first number, “Go back”, was not just the verve with which these demonstrative performers, who respond so easily and naturally to one another, delivered music and words alike, but the subtlety of the internal rhythms and bold crossbeats that give the music its forward momentum.

Both here and in the slow song that followed, culminating in “Glory Hallelu’s”, the gospel music was topped with a finely honed, decorative descant, and each of the performers in turn brought an individual character to these as the evening progressed.

The precision of their beat and the eager passion of their delivery never faltered. Their reverence, too, patently shone through an unerringly beautiful sound.

A full-blooded number, “When we cross that river”, tickled the audience’s imagination. “I’m so glad that Jesus” benefited from subtler textures and unexpected rhythmic dartings. “Go home” had a remarkable swing: its descantings were specially vivid, even complex.

The choir are evidently masters of their trade. What one felt most of all, however, was the directness of contact between performers and audience. Joy was palpable; and the singers’ intimate, considerate way of sharing their music set everyone at their ease, and communicated in a spiritual way, too.

The amusing short sermon or homily with which the concert was briefly interrupted, was wholly apt. The astonishing slow encore, a passionate expression of gratitude for the healing of the group’s senior figure and guiding light, Ray Reed, from debilitating illness, could not have been more moving.

It would not be excessive to suggest that a musical experience such as this has a healing power. Certainly this audience left on cloud nine.

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