Seraphic Fire swings and soars in gospel program

By Lawrence Budmen

Seraphic Fire celebrated American roots with “I’ll Fly Away,” a program of gospel and folk music Friday night at First United Methodist Church in Coral Gables. Artistic director Patrick Quigley told the audience that the concert evoked nostalgia and remembrance for many choir members whose first musical experience was singing hymns in southern churches.

The choir entered the church sanctuary to the a capella tones of soprano Kathryn Mueller singing Down to the River to Pray with disarming simplicity and vocal radiance. A series of bluegrass songs featured tenor Stefan Reed’s strong, assertive solo turn in I Wonder what  They’re doin’ There Now and a swinging version of I Saw the Light by country great Hank Williams. An up-tempo rendition of Albert E. Brumley’s I’ll Fly Away radiated vociferous joy.

The high point of the concert was countertenor Reginald L. Mobley’s unaccompanied solo version of There is a Balm in Gilead. His voice pure and true, Mobley imbued the traditional hymn with the exquisite beauty of lieder. No less impressive was Minnesota composer Stephen Paulus’ richly textured arrangement of The Road Home. Quigley evoked gorgeous colors and velvet sonorities from his excellent singers, soprano Suzanne Hatcher’s lovely voice soaring over the ensemble.

The versatile choir alternately conveyed the exultation of a revival meeting or brought classical restraint to such familiar gospel favorites as Sweet Beulah Land. Going Up Home to Green Pastures received lilting treatment, the women’s voices angelic in utterance.

Patrick Quigley

Quigley sang a virile, resilient solo on Gloryland, a wonderful example of southern harmonic and sacred traditions. That distinctly American genre, the barbershop quartet, took the spotlight in Just a Little Talk with Jesus. Quigley, Reed, bass James Bass and baritone Joshua Copeland were the delightful foursome. Many of the selections were accompanied by the lively bluegrass trio of Alvaro Bermudez (guitar), Bass on bass and Copeland with a distinctive banjo twang.

A group of familiar hymns brought the evening’s most fervent performances. Bass offered a darkly resonant Deep River, Quigley’s flowing tempo avoiding the slightest hint of heavy handedness. Tenor Samuel Spears headlined a reverent, powerful ensemble version of It is Well Within My Soul. Copeland’s vocal finesse anchored I‘d Rather Have Jesus by George Beverly Shea, the gospel singer long associated with Rev. Billy Graham. Darrin Stafford sang How Great Thou Art without operatic pretensions, bringing sincerity and conviction to this sacred icon. (Quigley noted that he had played that hymn innumerable times at funerals during his youth in New Orleans.)

Accompanying the hymns at the keyboard, the multi talented Quigley offered a tinge of bluesy pianistic elegance and a hint of jazzy stride pyrotechnics. As an encore, the choir proclaimed Victory is Mine with stirring, ecstatic force, Mobley and Stafford bringing evangelical zeal to their solos. Gospel music has rarely been served with such elevated artistry.

Seraphic Fire repeats “I’ll Fly Away” 7 and 10 p.m. Saturday at Miami Beach Community Church and 4 p.m. Sunday at All Saints Episcopal Church in Ft. Lauderdale. 305-285-9060;

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Sat Nov 7, 2009
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