By Keith Morris
2010: Norwich Cathedral was filled with the rhythmic, soul-searching and heavenly sounds of Gospel music from a 70-strong teenage Norfolk choir on Saturday May 15.
Rarely in its 900-year history can the iconic Norwich landmark have witnessed such unbridled, enthusiastic and all-enveloping joyful singing, thoroughly enjoyed by an audience of around 500.
The Norwich Youth for Christ Gospel Choir is comprised of students from around ten Norfolk High Schools, under the guidance of musical director Heather Feltham.
Formed just over two years ago, the choir has already performed at Soul Survivor, the Castle Mall in Norwich and at churches and schools across the county.
The concert also marked the release of their debut album God Has Smiled.
The choir showed their full repertoire during over two hours of uplifting music, swaying and clapping right from the start with He Reigns and Hosanna followed by an early highlight, the soulful and well-known Something Inside so Strong by Labi Siffre.
Album title track God Has Smiled certainly hit the high notes with soloist Ozzita Gorman. And My Life is in Your Hands kept the tempo up with the choir growing in confidence with each song. I go to the Rock even got the audience swaying and clapping along with the choir and performers’ favourite Everyday rounded off the first half in style.
Following a short message from Roy Crowne, executive director of Hope, pointing out that 85% of those who discover a Christian faith do so in their teenage years, the choir returned with a gospel version of pop song Lovely Day.
The highlight of the night for me was the traditional Swing Low Sweet Chariot with an outstanding solo from bass Jonny Wilde which got the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end and many in the audience standing in appreciation.
Musical director Heather Feltham got in on the act with her own song, which the choir had only learnt a week earlier, Cast Your Burdens. A change of pace saw I Will Follow Him from the film Sister Act before the audience were asked to join in with a rousing alternative version of classic hymn Amazing Grace.
Oh Happy Day was a most appropriate way to round off a very enjoyable and uplifting evening with a well deserved encore of Shackles.
But this choir is about much more than putting on a performance, as testified by several members of the group. Soloist Hattie Simpson said: “Being in the choir is amazing, we are a family and are all really close. I was not a Christian when I joined but the experience opened my mind and my heart.”
Lauren Cooke said: “I have grown so much in myself and it has helped me to feel comfortable with my values and my faith.”
Grace Leeder said: “I joined the choir because I like Gospel music and I was just exploring my faith. I was hooked in the first week. It has helped me grow in confidence and to not be ashamed of my faith. I just can’t express all that the choir means to me.”
Jonnie Harnett said: “I have been in the choir right from the start. It is amazing how it has grown. The sense of being a community has not been lost. People have come into it from so many backgrounds. They feel welcome no matter what their faith is. Heather has an undying passion for us and who we are. She is interested in us. Everyone in the choir has someone looking after them – that is something different from the world we live in.”
NYFC director, Mark Tuma, said: “Heather’s ability and passion for the music is a real gift for us. But it is not just about the performance. The whole experience tells the young people that they are special.”
A sentiment with which all 500 there at Norwich Cathedral on Saturday would surely agree.
To buy a copy of the album, God Has Smiled, contact the NYFC office on 01603 620678