Baltimore's All Saints Choir is spreading the gospel to the capitals of Europe

August 13, 1993|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Music Critic

It's not every day that parishioners at an inner-city church get to take an 11-day trip to some of the most celebrated sights in Europe. For the choir of the All Saints Roman Catholic Church at 4408 Liberty Height Ave., however, it's getting to be a fairly common experience.

Yesterday the choir and its music director, Bill Cumming, flew to Vienna for a concert tour that will also take them to Salzburg, Austria; Munich, Germany, and Lucerne, Switzerland. Four years ago Cummings, who has been the only music director of the choir in its 20-year existence, took his singers to St. Peter's Basilica in Rome where they sang for Pope John Paul II and later had an audience with him. Three years ago they took their repertory of African-American spirituals -- all Cummings' own arrangements -- to London and Paris. It was that tour that resulted in an official invitation from the Swiss government to give concerts and workshops in Lucerne.

"Just to see how the musical message speaks to people who can't always understand English is one of the greatest experiences I've ever had," said Anthony Brown, 30, a tenor who has sung with the choir for five years.

Brown joined the other 27 members of the choir, several family members who are traveling with it, Del. Frank D. Boston Jr., whose 41st District includes All Saints Church, City Council President Mary Pat Clarke and representatives of Mayor Kurt Schmoke and Gov. William Donald Schaeffer, at a bon voyage party given by Victor Frenkil, president of BCI Contractors. Frenkil, who is Jewish, has always taken an interest in African-American church music and in Bill Cummings and All Saints in particular.

Although three Swiss churches are paying most of the choir's expenses in Switzerland, $10,000 of the rest of the tour's $90,000 cost will come from Frenkil, who has helped to pay for s previous trips. He also helped to arrange an appearance at the White House two years ago, and one at a Memorial Service for Robert F. Kennedy at Arlington Cemetery earlier this summer.

"He's a great man and this wouldn't have been possible without him," Cummings said of Frenkil. "We've never had to ask him for anything -- he always offers."

Their relationship goes back 15 years to the time when Cummings -- now also a professor of music at Coppin State University -- helped support himself by playing piano at the bar of the Belvedere Hotel, which Frenkil owned. Frenkil, who has written more than 200 songs himself, asked Cummings to arrange and orchestrate some of them. The two men have been friends since then and the choir will perform three of Frenkil's songs on the tour.

Although some of the older choristers are hardened tour veterans, youngsters, such as Marc Coleman, 13, could scarcely contain themselves.

"I'm excited because this will be my first plane ride and because it's going so far away," Coleman said.

The trip will cost each person almost $2,500 each and music director Cummings said that he knows it is a hardship for almost all of them.

"We're poor people," Devera Lynn, the mother of Marc Coleman, who said that she has gone deeply into debt to pay for the trip for her and her son.

"But it's worth it because of what it will mean to my child. He listens to rap, but he worships Mozart and Wagner. To visit the places where those people lived and worked will give him an incentive to see the world in a different light."

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