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American Spiritual Ensemble
[February 18, 2011]

American Spiritual Ensemble

VAN WERT, Feb 18, 2011 (The Lima News - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Preserving the life of the oldest form of American music is what the American Spiritual Ensemble does as it reminds the world of the beauty of the spiritual in a Saturday concert at Niswonger Performing Arts Center.

"We've been together since 1995. I put this group together as I was finishing my doctorate. I realized that many people didn't realize the difference between gospel music and spirituals, and that troubled me," said founder Dr. Everett McCorvey.

In fact, McCorvey can quickly trace the spirituals to the early 1600s.

"They're really the mother music that started everything," he said. "This is really the first music created in this country." Initiated by the African-American slaves, the music was their way of communicating and comforting themselves in a land new to them.

Meanwhile, gospel music didn't come to the forefront until the 1930s.

"That music includes jazz chords put to hymns. There's a lot more instrumentation, and the chordal structure is not as sophisticated," he said.

To emphasize the haunting beauty of the spirituals, they will be performed a capella.

"People who have never heard a spiritual sung by an operatic voice will be amazed. It's the most powerful sound you've ever heard. We use a piano from time to time, but most of the songs feature only voice," McCorvey said.

Performers in his group, which number around 100 with a travelling group of 25 to 30, audition annually for a spot in the ensemble.

"Each person who sings with us is committed to preserving the spiritual," McCorvey said.

The beauty of the music, he said, is that it transcends time and race.

"This is American music. It's part of our very diverse heritage, and celebrates the history of American people. If we lose this musical heritage, we lose our history," he added.

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