Seraphic Fire breaks up the summer doldrums with that old-time religion

By David Fleshler

A couple of bad things can happen when classically trained singers venture onto popular turf: they can smother songs in plummy, operatic voices, or they can take a hammy, condescending approach that reveals a lack of respect for the music and the audience.

 That neither of these took place at Seraphic Fire’s gospel concert Thursday night in Miami Shores is testament to the Miami choir’s professionalism and obvious enjoyment of the music. As artistic director Patrick Dupre Quigley told the audience at St. Martha in the Shores church, many classical singers discovered their gift as children singing in church, so in a way, Thursday’s concert was a return to their deepest musical roots.

 The singers lightened their sound and restrained the vibrato. A quartet of female voices sang Never Grow Old by James C. Moore and I’ll Fly Away by Albert E. Brumley with church-bell clarity and sweetness, as Quigley stood aside and listened.

 The baritone Graham Fandrei stepped out of the choir for the solo part of the contemporary gospel star Kirk Franklin’s My Life is in Your Hands, intoning the half sung, half spoken lines (“Troubles they don’t last always; For there’s a friend in Jesus.”) with such passion, polish and conviction that should he ever tire of singing, he could have a plausible career as a Pentecostal preacher.

 The soloists varied in their comfort with the physical side of gospel performance, some standing stiffly as if intoning Schubert lieder, others appearing to enjoy the greater physical and vocal freedom called for by these songs, swaying and gesturing toward the audience as if they were at a church service.

 The countertenor Reginald Mobley drew a standing ovation for an impassioned account of Precious Lord by Thomas Dorsey. He followed that with an improvisatory, highly embellished performance of Battle Hymn of the Republic.

 The ensemble was obviously having fun and it infected the audience. When Quigley invited the audience to join in the last two choruses of Amazing Grace, lots of people did, as Quigley switched between singing, clapping along and hammering away at the piano.

 Again Seraphic Fire showed it can push the repertorial envelope without ripping it.

 Seraphic Fire’s gospel concert repeats 7:30 Friday at First United Methodist Church of Coral Gables, 8 p.m. Saturday at All Saints Episcopal Church in Fort Lauderdale and 4 p.m. Sunday at Miami Beach Community Church. Call 305-285-9060 or go to

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Fri Jun 12, 2009
at 12:42 pm
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