On the day when family and friends gathered in Coleraine to celebrate the life of Dr Una Finnegan, who died in a tragic climbing accident in Scotland, a neighbouring house of worship was filled with intimations of heaven and hope of eternity.
First Presbyterian Church in Ballymoney rang to the sound of two gospel choirs playing to a sell-out crowd for the second night running.
A triumphant trumpet blast announced the arrival of the Barazina Youth Choir: ‘God’s amazing children’ skipping and dancing down the aisles. Their pure voices blended beautifully as they sang that they were ‘born to change the world, learning from the past and looking to the future’. Under the expert direction of Denise Rosborough, the youngsters clapped and rapped, delighting the audience with their energy and enthusiasm. Particularly enjoyable was their rendition of ‘To God be the Glory,’ with memorable solos from Daniel, Jessica and Imogen.
Barazina means ‘creative abundance’ and the audience was certainly treated to a bounty of musical joy.
Back by popular demand, the 80-strong ‘Let’s Sing Gospel’ choir recruited from Ballymoney and district then took to the stage. The choir is interdenominational and intergenerational, from teenagers to grandparents; its inclusive nature is evidenced by the fact that whole families were involved. The house rocked to the injunction to ‘Sing to the Lord’ followed by the rich harmonies in ‘Ancient of Days’. Song after song celebrated life and hope, with notable favourites such as ‘My Redeemer Lives’.
Energized by moving melodies, in one voice the choir asked, ‘How can I keep from singing?’ How indeed? Like the original spirituals, many of the songs were birthed in difficult places of trial and suffering where the writers found a hope in the unfailing love of God. It was this hope that the choir members were eager to share in song.
Sarah Taggart gave moving solo performances in ‘Jesus loves Me’ and ‘His Eye is on the Sparrow,’ with powerful echoes and responses from the full choir. Sarah then joined Christy Montgomery Flynn and tenor soloist, Chris Robinson, in a fabulous version of ‘Jerusalem’ – a magnificent paean of hope which segued into a choral declaration of adoration: ‘Hosanna in the Highest!’ Christy’s performance of Lou Felligham’s song, ‘There is a Day’ was filled with feeling as she voiced the Christian ultimate hope of a day of final redemption.
Throughout the evening, the singing was interspersed with video presentations by the charities at home and overseas which will benefit from the fund-raising concert: Cheers Youth Centre, Emmanuel Ministries, Calcutta and Aids Charity Trust in South Africa.
Magnificent accompaniment was provided by Johnny Boyd. Johnny and his fellow musicians, Jack Owens, Nigel Doey and Andrew Lee, combined musical excellence with sensitivity as they laid a skilfully-crafted foundation of rhythms and chords on which the singers were able to build. Johnny demonstrated mastery of the keyboard, both in performance and composition.
He was responsible for the musical arrangements and the song ‘One Glorious Day’ was written by him especially for this event and performed beautifully by Chris and the choir.
The choir’s conductor was local organist and musical director, Tony Morrison, whose passion for choral excellence was evident. The singers’ eyes were fixed on him for leadership and encouragement. The sense of joy and celebration was infectious and members of the congregation had the opportunity to sing favourite hymns such as ‘Be Thou my Vision’.
The concert came to a fitting climax in the well-loved ‘O Happy Day’ when soloist, Ciarà Young, who sings with the Belfast Community Gospel Choir, ably led the singers in a sumptuous shout of thanksgiving. The building was filled with exultant energy.
The harmony of the evening offered a welcome antidote to discord and dissension. The songs shared a common theme of an expectation of eternity and a hope in a better life to come. It was a foretaste of a future time when people from every tribe and nation will bow in worship, find their voice and sing.
The locale waits in anticipation of the next ‘Let’s Sing Gospel’ event.