COLUMBIA — Music is what brings people together.
At least that's what LaMont Walker, guest conductor of the Community Gospel Choir, hopes will happen on Saturday when more than 200 choir members join together to celebrate togetherness at the Unity Benefit Concert.
His entire choir seemed to embody this idea during rehearsals last week. They laughed and chatted between songs that followed the theme of traditional gospel and were based off Martin Luther King Jr. speeches. Their excitement and passion echoed off the walls of their practice space at the Urban Empowerment Ministries.
Three local choirs will come together Saturday for a fundraising concert for the Youth Empowerment Zone, an organization that provides urban youth with opportunities for future achievement through skills training and employment resources, according to the YEZ website.
Members of the Community Gospel Choir, Columbia Chorale and the Columbia Youth Choirs will first showcase songs as separate choirs before combining their more than 200 members for a finale.
"It doesn't matter where you grew up," said Emily Edgington Andrews, the artistic director of the concert and Columbia Chorale conductor. "Music speaks to everybody, that's what's so powerful about it."
The idea for Unity first came to Andrews a year ago as she was creating the 2016 season calendar for the chorale.
Andrews' job is to pick the concert themes for each season, and she decided to make "unity" a theme for one of this year's concerts. Andrews said she wanted to host a concert to honor Martin Luther King Jr. and decided to invite all the choirs to represent physical unity.
“My greatest reward is bringing all of these different worlds together, people who came from various walks of life joining together to accomplish one goal,” Andrews said.
Walker said that the timing of the concert could not have been planned more perfectly after recent protests on MU's campus brought national attention to racism in Columbia. Community members spoke in various protests in November about racial inequalities on campus and in the community at large.
"I truly believe it was divine timing," Walker said.
He said that people of different races and ethnicities need unity after November's events more than ever because healing is what's needed most in the community at the moment. Walker's already seen the community change for the better, he said, and this concert is an example of that.
Andrews said she is excited to bring two different forms of music together. The Columbia Chorale typically sings classical music, and she said it has been an uplifting experience to work with a gospel choir.
"The response has been very positive during rehearsals in terms of singing some of the concert literature," Andrews said. "People really seem to be grasping and enjoying it."
The Columbia Chorale will perform three songs, the Columbia Youth Choirs will perform four songs and the Community Gospel Choir will have a set of two songs, both of which were written by Walker. At the end of the concert, the choirs will combine to sing four songs as one group.
The benefit concert will be held at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Missouri United Methodist Church. Tickets are free-will donation and the proceeds will benefit the Youth Empowerment Zone, according to the Columbia Chorale website.
Andrews said a Chorale board member reached out to her last year about the possibility of YEZ working with the choir on a concert.
“Our organization is dedicated to giving back to the community,” Andrews said. “If we can use music as a resource to aid other arts and non-arts programs, we are eager to assist.”
During the six weeks of rehearsal, the different choirs have been preparing to come together and perform as one.
Walker said that he has enjoyed seeing the singers get to know each other and produce music for a greater good: "They're eating it up and I'm loving it."
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