Although the members of the Beverly Morgan Park Community Choir (BMPCC) were all dressed in black at their annual concert, the atmosphere was anything but solemn. A drummer nodded his head to the rhythm of his cymbals, a cellist’s hair swung over her eyes as she swayed along to the back-and-forth motion of her bow, and singers—whether belting out resounding operatic notes or spunky jazz harmonies—smiled brightly and bobbed up and down to the music.
Representing a wide range of ages, denominations, instruments, and twenty-two different churches, these singers and musicians congregate annually as the BMPCC—one of the largest and most eclectic choirs in Chicago—to put together a show far more unconventional and extravagant than the traditional choir concert.
This year’s show, at St. Barnabas Church on April 12, featured a piece called “A Contemporary Mass,” a work that merges Latin text with contemporary world music and jazz undertones. BMPCC’s director, Lance Loiselle, stumbled upon the piece and couldn’t stop listening to the unique melodic interplay of instruments and voices. Loiselle reached out to Dr. Stuart Scott, the piece’s composer, with the intent of purchasing the music, but the two started corresponding and ended up meeting in their shared hometown of Detroit.
In the end, Scott agreed to travel to Chicago to conduct the piece for this year’s BMPCC concert, marking only the third time the piece had been performed in its entirety. Although rarely performed, “A Contemporary Mass” is slowly making its way through choirs around the world—the piece will next be sung by the Scroll of Music at the Baptist College of Rio de Janeiro.
“Dr. Scott brought a lot of energy and expertise to his piece,” says Janelle Richmond, a soprano and five-year member of the choir. “We were lucky to have him here.”
The other pieces performed by the choir ranged from Beethoven to “Soon and Very Soon,” a jazz tribute to Andraé Crouch. In order to prepare such an array of music for each year’s concert, the choir starts rehearsing in January for two hours every Sunday afternoon. After ten weeks of focused rehearsal, the group performs for friends, relatives, and community members in Beverly’s St. Barnabas Church, where they have been performing since 2000.
BMPCC has been steadily expanding and attracting more voices and instruments. With a strong, harmonized sound that remains unified even amidst complex rhythms, it’s difficult to believe that the choir is made up solely of amateur singers.
“We are open to everyone who wants to share their voice,” says Richmond. “The choir reflects the diversity of the Beverly Morgan Park community. The different backgrounds and strengths everyone brings enrich the choral tradition.”
By bringing together individuals from all over Chicago and directors from across the country, the cohesive sound of the BMPCC concert is a tribute to innovation and collaboration. The choir’s policy of openness to new music and new members keeps its musical tradition moving forward, allowing it to grow with each year and each performance. This adaptability, willingness to branch out from traditional classical music, and experimentation with different types of praise music make BMPCC’s performance of unconventional pieces like “A Contemporary Mass” a true success—a new type of contemporary harmony.