Transition: The time is now
From Staff Reports
AMERICUS — At 5 p.m. on Dec. 31 in the gymnasium of Americus Sumter High School, AmeriGospel Inc. will host its 29th annual gospel concert.
The theme for this year’s workshop and concert is centered on the concept “transition.” Transition is often defined as a process or a period of change. Often, change requires for a shift to occur. This shift can be in one’s attitude, perception, actions or all of the above. It’s about transformation like that of a butterfly — life is birthed through a process (from an egg to a caterpillar to a cocoon to a beautiful, brightly colored two winged insect). This is the core of AmeriGospel’s theme and its new persona as it moves into its 30th year of existence.
According to Shernone Butts, dance coordinator/instructor, this theme is particularly special because it is also about reflection.
“Sometimes before new life happens, reflection is necessary,” said Butts.
Reflection is also transforming as it seeks to not just consider past events or actions, but the ability to move forward towards a clearer vision for future success.
“We [staff/board members] saw this theme as an opportunity to remember, to honor, and to use the essence of those actions to create new life,” added Butts.
New life. Transitions. Change.
For Kelvin W. Pless, founder/director, these concepts are essentially, the birth and growth of gospel music. Gospel music, according to Pless, has never been a “set in stone” genre. It is a genre that has had steady growth since its early inception in the 17th century and has always surged fresh new ideas.
“Too often, when it comes to the art of gospel music, we only want to hear or sing what is familiar to us. The hymns. The spirituals. The steady beat and hand clap rhythm. The repetitious call and respond. But gospel music is so much more. Every year with the workshops, we want to enhance this community [Americus-Sumter County and surrounding counties] — to expose them to different ways of praise and worship. Because when we think about it, the growth of gospel music has not stopped,” said Pless.
The style and the beat may have changed, but both Pless and Butts stated, the message remains the same. According to Pless and Butts, too often some people fail to accept the presentation of contemporary gospel music, not because of unfamiliarity, but also because the art of it — instrumentation — appears to be secular, forgetting that other genres such as the blues grew out of gospel music.
“Gospel music has transformed to make sure that no one is left behind. The message of the music has not changed. It is more open or relatable to assure that it reaches as many people as it can, especially the younger generation. The lyrics of gospel music are still the words of God. It is more than just a beat — it is still about the goodness of God,” stated Butts.
Pless, also stated, gospel music should not be viewed as secondary to any other expressions of God’s word.
“Many times we hear ‘you’ve heard the singing and watched the dancing; now it’s time for the word.’ That statement suggests that the praise and worship given through the God-given talents of those who love to sing about the blessings and goodness of God or those who are able to articulate through the act of movement is not as worthy to give an understanding of God’s words. And I believe that is not true. God blessed us with so many talents, and we can use any of those talents to creatively express His goodness, grace, and mercy. Doing so allows for us to yes, give Him praise, but also as Shernone said, reach others,” added Pless.
Furthermore, according to Pless, when considering exposing people to God’s word, it is important to consider that experiences can determine a person’s desire to attend, to build a relationship with both God and the church.
“If we are stagnant and not able to be adaptable and flexible, then we miss the opportunity to reach the needs of people — to help them grow spiritually,” said Pless.
Gospel music, like many other aspects of life, has transitioned. And AmeriGospel continues to do the same as it aims to preserve the art of praise — through exposure of many styles and expressions but also in its own organizational structure. For the last couple of years, AmeriGospel has worked towards becoming a 501-C3 nonprofit organization, and within the last year with the help of Juwana Washington, a prior staff member and Clifford Porter, it was approved to operate under the requirements of the application and guidelines.
Becoming a 501-C3 nonprofit organization has been a transition for AmeriGospel that has opened many doors already. Pless described it as a process but one that has been beauty within itself.
“Now we have different means of operating, more opportunities for fundraising, but more importantly, the structure to develop a foundation to use the organization beyond just its annual workshops and concert,” said Pless.
Pless also stated this is new life as it gives the staff and board members a chance to sustain AmeriGospel as each uses his/her gifts to nourish the growth and future of the organization.
“The success of AmeriGospel is attributed by the talents of many individuals and it is always refreshing to see those who grew up with the organization come back and contribute their talents and lead the AmeriGospel into its future growth and success,” he said.
For AmeriGospel to continue to preserve the art of praise and to educate, to enhance, to expose others to the evolution of gospel music it must be open and align with Ephesians 4:1, “walk worthy of your calling.”
According to Pless, as people do so they understand the importance of always sharpening their skills and gifts.
“When writing with a pencil, you realize at some point you can’t continue to write with a dull pencil. At some point you must sharpen it again or even replace it. With either step, you are refreshing the usefulness of that pencil. Gospel music is the same and AmeriGospel aims to foster he spirituality of others by being aligned with the transition of new ideas and expressions,” said Pless.
Butts also added that is about openness and also assuring the needs and hunger of the younger generations are met.
“Growth is change. Change is a process. Process is a transition. It is about doing what is needed to continue to reach as many through the art of praise,” added Pless.
As in the previous years, before the culmination of the concert, workshop practices will be held on Dec. 27-30. Cost of participation for individuals ages 12 years and under is $10; for those 13 years and older, the cost is $20. Additional to the workshop practices, clinics will be held from 5:30-6:30 p.m. Sunday-Wednesday. Alice Faye Dodson Bridges will facilitate the “So You’re a Choir Member” clinic on Sunday; Bishop J. Nathan Paige will facilitate a clinic on church music ministry on Monday; Elder Alesia Snipes Minnis will facilitate a clinic on the development of spirituality in the music ministry on Tuesday; and Aaron Snipes will facilitate a clinic on being a choir director on Wednesday. Any individuals who participate in the clinics will receive a certificate of participation.
Leading and director the adult mass choir is Aaron Snipes; the children’s mass choir, Adrienne Seay; and the dance ministry, Kevia Pless (primary dancers: ages 4-10) and Nelsondria Brown, Shernone Butts and Melanie Cross (young adults). Supporting both the choirs are musicians Mauricio Paige of Albany (lead musician), Dontae Flowers of Hahira (keyboardist), Ryan Fulton of Americus (percussionist), Ivery Lucas of Thomasville (bass guitarist), and Professor Joel Johnson of Albany State University from Tallahassee, Fla. (lead guitarist).
Before the presentation of the concert, the audience will be graced by the wonderful vocals of Kourtney Latimore Shelley performing some of her songs from her recently released album, “Discover Jesus.” Lakeia Taylor is the emcee, and this year, a surprise guest will be added to the lineup of worshipping God through the art of praise.
Join AmeriGospel on the eve of the New Year to celebrate new beginnings — transitions — into the start of another year by acknowledging the talents of others who openly express their gratefulness for God’s mercy and grace through the art of praise.
Admission for the concert is $10. For more information, visit amerigospel.org