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MORE THAN 200 ‘BLENDED VOICES’ TO SING GOSPEL

Dr. Crystal Sellers wants to introduce people to the gospel music she grew up with, and still loves.

The week of Nov. 6, the Columbus, Ohio, native will do it in a big way at Bluffton University, where she is an assistant professor of music.

"Blended Voices: Music and Worship in the Gospel Tradition" is a weeklong celebration that will feature Dr. Raymond Wise, a composer, arranger, gospel historian and minister from Columbus. It will conclude Saturday, Nov. 12, with a morning conference hosted by Sellers and a 6 p.m. gospel concert in Founders Hall. The concert will blend 206 voices, primarily from four Bluffton choirs, including the campus-community gospel choir directed by Sellers; four choirs from area churches; and Wise’s Raise Productions Choir.

Highlighting the Saturday conference will be a 9 a.m. keynote address by Wise in Yoder Recital Hall and four concurrent sessions, beginning at 10:15 a.m., for school choral directors, church choir directors, church musicians and church choir singers. Presenters will be Sellers and three fellow Bluffton music faculty members—Dr. Lucia Unrau, professor and chair of music; Dr. Mark Suderman, professor of music; and Dr. Jon Peterson, assistant professor of music.

The conference costs $20 for adults and $15 for students; prices include morning refreshments, materials and lunch. Attendees, who should register by Nov. 7, may also buy a $10 meal ticket to eat supper with Wise and members of the concert choirs from 4-5:30 p.m. in Marbeck Center.

The 6 p.m. concert is free. With parking at a premium due to construction of the Health and Fitness Education Center, concertgoers who will be driving to campus should drop off passengers in front of Founders Hall before parking either in the Bentley Road lot or the Citizens National Bank/First Mennonite Church lot on Jackson Street. University vans will serve as shuttles between those two parking lots and Founders Hall both before the concert—beginning at 5 p.m.—and afterward.

"My dream has always been to bring together people who might never consider this gospel style," says Sellers, who organized the Bluffton University Gospel Choir last year. The choir, which has grown to 65 campus and community members this year, presented concerts to standing-room-only audiences in Yoder Recital Hall last fall and spring. Those performances were "a testament to the popularity of this group," adds the director, who brought Wise—a friend of her father’s and her first voice teacher—to Bluffton to conduct some of his music at the spring concert.

While he was on campus, a conversation with Unrau about how Bluffton could celebrate gospel was the first step toward "Blended Voices," Sellers says. After Jeff Boehr, coordinator of church relations, and campus pastor Stephen "Tig" Intagliata also became involved, the dates were set to coincide with the university’s Spiritual Life Week.

As a result of that pairing, Wise will also be the Bluffton Forum speaker, "Exploring the Significance of African-American Sacred Music" at 11 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 8, in Yoder Recital Hall, and both Sellers and he will address the Spiritual Life Week theme, "Finding Your Voice," at services in Yoder at 8:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 6, and at 11 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 10, respectively. All three of those programs are free and open to the public as well.

After discussing individual voices for several days, by Friday, Nov. 11, "we’ll start blending them," says Sellers. She has been helping the participating choirs prepare, and they will gather at 6:30 p.m. that evening for a combined rehearsal with Wise.

Joining forces with the gospel choir will be fellow campus groups Accent!, a men’s chorus; Camerata Singers, a select mixed choir; and Bel Canto, a women’s chorus; choirs from First Mennonite Church, 11th Street Missionary Baptist Church in Lima, First Presbyterian Church in Findlay and a combined choir from three area United Churches of Christ; and Wise’s Raise Productions Choir, which Sellers describes as "one of the very few semi-professional gospel choirs that has traveled around Europe."

Each of those choirs will perform one piece during the concert, with the exception of the university gospel choir, which will present three numbers—"Total Praise," with accompaniment by Bluffton’s Worship Dance Team and an instrumental ensemble of university faculty and students, plus Wise arrangements of "Lord, I Want to be a Christian" and "So Glad to be Here."

About 15 individuals who learned about the event and were interested in singing will join all the choirs for the combined performance of Wise’s "Shine the Light."

"Blended Voices" is the first in what’s envisioned as a biannual series of similar programs focused on various styles of worship music, such as hymns and contemporary Christian music, Sellers says.

For registration and more information, go to www.bluffton.edu/mus/blended/.

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Bluffton public relations, 10/28/11