By JEFFARAH GIBSON
Tribune Features Writer
The 21st century has seen the slow death of church choirs not only in The Bahamas but around the world.
The once ten to 20-member groups that added to a worship experience have now been replaced by three to five member praise teams whose main role it is to set the tone for the church service.
Rev Christopher Roberts, a musician and former “bad boy” who was reformed after a stint at the Boys Industrial School, believes choirs have a significant place within the church and he hopes that an upcoming concert which he is presenting will see a resurgence of these musical groups.
“The Choir Project” by Christopher Roberts & Friends concert will feature a 100 plus voice choir along with a wide cross section of soloists and musicians. There will be special guest performances from other local recording artists from Nassau, Freeport and Bimini. It will be held on March 1 at Golden Gates World Outreach Ministries beginning 6.30pm.
“Over the past few years it would seem as if the choir ministry of churches have died. Most churches today which once had thriving choirs, now have only praise teams. While praise teams have their place and serve a purpose, there is nothing like the music and ministry of the choir. It is hoped that this concert will bring about a resurgence of choir music in our churches, thereby providing an avenue for the masses of persons interested in singing to have an outlet, unlike the praise team which primarily focuses on a select few,” Rev Roberts told Tribune Religion.
The event will also serve as an album release concert for Christopher Roberts & Friends. The album, titled “The Choir Project”, consists of 11 original songs, covering various genres: traditional, rake ’n scrape, Junkanoo, contemporary, and praise and worship. The messages contained within these songs, he said, are designed to inspire a sense of hope and to encourage people, not only in The Bahamas but the world at large. There also two international artists participating in the project.
“This is history in the making. Nothing like this has ever happened in The Bahamas. (People) should come because they appreciate and want to support an excellent, professionally done Bahamian project...they should come because they will experience not just another concert, but they will have an encounter with the presence of God. We have been praying and fasting and we are assured of a holy visitation,” said Rev Roberts.
Rev Roberts began his music career at the tender age of nine when he made his singing debut on stage at the Polaris Hall at the former Holiday Inn on Paradise Island.
Like most children, he had his fair share of challenges during the formative years. At age 11, he gained national attention after he ran away from home. The newspaper headlines read: “11-year-old boy missing”, referring to a young Rev Roberts who left home in search of his father. This adventure landed him in front of the juvenile panel which ordered 12 lashes from the police, a psychological evaluation at Sandilands, and a probationary period.
One day before his 14th birthday, he was placed in the custodial care of the Boys Industrial School. Most people would consider this a most unfortunate turn of events, but he saw it as a blessing disguise. It was there he gave his heart to Christ and he began his choir directing career.
Having obtained permission, Rev Roberts formed and directed his first choir: The Boys Industrial School Choir. This choir, borne out of a unique set of circumstances, gained national attention and notoriety with its appearances on national radio, concerts, churches and other special government and civic events.
In 1991, he was given the opportunity to conduct his first choir workshop with the Southland Church of God Choir under the direction of the late Sister Lovetha Robinson. This experience ignited a new fire in his spirit and shortly thereafter the New Providence Gospel Music Workshop came into being. The name was later changed to the Interdenominational Music and Arts Gospel Workshop (IMAGE Workshop).
Rev Roberts has mentored and watched countless young people pass through his musical programme and workshops.
“I have watched music break communication barriers. I have seen music mend emotional scars. I know that music has the power to soothe the deepest pain. I have seen these things happen over and over again. These are the moments I live for. When I see the change that occurs in a young person’s life, when they seemingly finally find something through which they can express their innermost thoughts and feelings, then I know I have done something impactful and worthwhile,” he said.
The ability to totally transform a choir has taken him into almost every church and denomination on every island of the Bahamas, various parts of the United States of America, Canada, Europe and parts of the Caribbean. He has also had the privilege of either singing with or directing choirs for gospel icons like Rev Timothy Wright, John P Kee, Kirk Franklyn, Donnie McClurkin, BeBe and CeCe Winans and Shirley Ceasar.