Negro Spirituals and Gospel Music  Influence International Relations


International music leaders celebrated the “Roots from the West” program on July 1, at Allen Temple and gave the African American Heritage Hymnal to Per Oddvar “Prots” Hildre, founder and director of SKRUK choir visiting from Norway. Standing with him are L. to R., Terrance Kelly, artistic director of the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, and Pastor Emeritus and Mrs. J. Alfred Smith, Sr. Photo by Sue Taylor.

Three choirs sang July 1 at a program at Allen Temple Baptist Church in East Oakland— the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir (OIGC), visiting Norwegian Choir SKRUK, and the Allen Temple Unity Choir, which opened the program.

OIGC Artistic Director Terrance Kelly, “grew up” at Allen Temple, and joyfully relished returning “home” as almost 200 voices filled the sanctuary.

One of many programs over the last two weeks, the cultural exchange came from OIGC’s visit to Norway, where musicians and directors of the two choirs fell in love with each other. Both the SKRUK choir under the direction of Per Oddvar “Prots” Hildre, and OIGC performed all over the Bay Area. Concluding performances were at First Presbyterian Church of Oakland Monday night, and Napa Methodist Church on Tuesday, July 3.

SKRUK from Norway was founded in 1973, OIGC in 1986, and Allen Temple has had choirs since the church was founded almost 100 years ago. Liberation—a prevailing theme of Negro spirituals and Gospel music—has been a focus of all three choirs.

Gospel music is performed and appreciated across Scandinavia and Europe. A group of 30 students from International House at the UC Berkeley campus visited Allen Temple years ago to worship with the congregation and hear the music.

Attending the Sunday program was Pastor Emeritus J. Alfred Smith, Sr., who closed the program in prayer.

Afterward, SKRUK Director Prots Hildre was given the African American Heritage Hymnal and he immediately asked that Pastor “sign my copy.” He was thrilled to have the hymnal, available at the Allen Temple Bookstore and online where books are sold. The hymnal was published in 2001 and is still the only hymnal of its kind.

Pastor Smith and the late Minister of Music Betty D. Gadling served on a committee that published the hymnal, “committed to preserving and promoting the best congregational music of our ecumenical African-American Christian tradition.”

In the introduction, Pastor Smith wrote, “This tradition is rooted in the richness of our historical past, but it is also dynamic and evolutionary with the continuing creativity of God-inspired persons.”

From reports of those attending the various programs around the Bay Area of OIGC and SKRUK, the music was performed by “God-inspired” persons. The Allen Temple sanctuary resounded with ethereal sounds, with music from Norway, the early Christian church, and the most pre-eminent of traditional and modern Gospel music.

Pastor Smith quotes in his introduction essay from the book, “The Black Church in the African American Experience,” by C. Eric Lincoln and Lawrence H. Mamiya, that “Black people ‘Africanized’ Christianity in America as they sought to find meaning in the turn of events that made them involuntary residents in a strange and hostile land.”

Even now in 2018, many around the globe seeking liberation have their own need to “find meaning,” and the music performed these past two weeks surely lends itself to that mission.

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