“Some of us came in here really heavy tonight. Before we leave here, we’re going to shake all that off.”
Ebony Singers director Dr. Marichal Monts opened the gospel choir’s winter concert on Monday, Dec. 1 with the intent to entertain, inspire, and interact with the audience. Throughout the performance, Monts encouraged the crowd in Crowell Concert Hall to participate in whatever ways they were comfortable, as the choir worked to create an open dialogue between performer and viewer.
“This is Crowell Pentecostal Church tonight, so you’ve got to talk back to me,” Monts said. “We need noise, we need clapping, dancing, screaming, whatever you want to do. Your emotions are connected to motion.”
Founded in 1969, the Ebony Singers aim to facilitate communication and unity among people of different ethnicities. Beginning just as a student group, the Ebony Singers is now composed of about 75 students who go through a rigorous audition process to participate in a half-credit class. It was originally exclusively African-American students, but since Monts became director in 1986, the choir has been open to everyone.
Monts embraces expression through movement in his conducting, and his passionate directing and brief interludes in between and during songs were highlights of the show. Accompanied by a guitarist, bass player, drummer, and two pianists, Monts and the Ebony Singers performed eight songs, each of which was chosen specifically to evoke emotion in the singers.
“I’m generally looking for something first that will inspire the students,” Monts said in an interview with The Argus. “If I can ever get a song that inspires them, their delivery is going to be so passionate that the people who are listening will be inspired as well. Ultimately, that’s what I want to do, but I have to find the right songs.”
Monts was indeed successful in inspiring the singers; throughout the concert, those most passionate about the music stood out visually, dancing and drawing the eyes of the audience. It was clear from their enthusiasm that students had favorites among the numbers, and as a result, those were the ones that came out as the strongest in their repertoire.
“All In His Hands” was one such stand-out, and the singers delivered it with zeal. The number did have rough patches, however, when it called for the sopranos, altos, and tenors to perform separately. The smaller groups struggled to fill the concert hall with enough sound and the lyrics consequently were difficult to distinguish. Once they merged back into a full ensemble, though, the singers’ passion echoed throughout the space.
The following song, “Hand Of The Lord,” featured a dramatic opening that brought applause from the audience. This number was faster and higher pitched, but the singers were able to carry it as a group. During an instrumental break, Monts told the story of his own history with Ebony Singers and introduced the audience to his 73-year-old mother, heartwarmingly citing her as his greatest inspiration.
While the choir excelled at the more energetic numbers, the pinnacle of its performance came with the penultimate song, “Be Weak.” Monts deemed it as his personal favorite.
“This song speaks about people who go through difficult times in their life and everybody is generally saying, ‘Be strong. Get over it. You can make it,’” Monts said. “But this song talks about how, when you really trust God, it’s okay for you to be weak. He gets your weakness. Your tears are going to turn into a smile eventually, so let everybody else tell you what you shouldn’t be. Embrace the weakness, and let God be strong in your weakness.”
Beginning slowly, the song’s message clearly resonated with the singers. They carried it powerfully, even—perhaps especially so—when the instruments dropped out of the mix. Halfway through, Monts turned to direct an audience sing-a-long, and later signaled for a standout solo from Associate Director of Career Development and Campus Outreach Persephone Hall. Stepping out of the audience to perform, Hall gave an impassioned, deeply personal take on the chorus that brought the audience to its feet.
The concert finished strong with the high-octane “Trouble Don’t Last Always,” featuring a beautifully sung solo from special guest Ernie Cloman and ended with the audience standing and, of course, singing along. In a stressful time of the semester, the choir succeeded at the feat of harmonious inspiration. The Ebony Singers’ bursting, infectious passion was just what strong gospel does best.