Gospel artists shine abroad

Westminster pianist, city singer make CD, fans in Belgium

`Music had a big effect'

September 05, 2001|By Lisa Breslin | Lisa Breslin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

It only took two songs to move the ordinarily stoic Belgians out of their seats for Maryland musicians Lea Gilmore and Eric Byrd's final gospel concert in Meerbeke, Belgium.

The Baltimore gospel and blues singer and the Westminster jazz pianist ended a four-day concert series Sunday with five standing ovations and as many encores. The pair performed with Mozaeik, a Belgian youth choir.

"Ordinarily, I don't go to church, but if churches were like this all the time, I'd be there every day of the week," said Ingrid Simon of Ninove, Belgium.

Gilmore, who has lectured internationally on civil rights and social activism, and Byrd, who directs the Western Maryland College Gospel Choir and leads the Eric Byrd Trio, traveled to Belgium to perform and talk about gospel music and to record a compact disc with Mozaiek and Norbert Detaeye, a well-known Belgian musician."[Gilmore] has a fantastic voice," said Laura Dobbelaere, 10, a member of Mozaeik. "She pulls us through the concerts; she inspires us to do things we wouldn't ordinarily do."

Gilmore had the same effect on her audiences. During each concert - held in a 17th-century church - she bantered back and forth with them until they loosened up: "Gospel means `good news'; you all should be smiling," she said. "This is not just me up here - you have to be involved, too. Let me hear you say `Amen.'"

The concerts were recorded and will be available in the United States. Proceeds will benefit Damien Foundation Belgium, named for Father Damien of Molokai, who worked to improve the lives of victims of leprosy in Hawaii and died of the disease in 1889. The foundation, which invited the pair to Belgium, funds efforts in several countries to fight leprosy and other diseases.

"We haven't slept much, but who needs to?" said Byrd, reflecting on the trip. "This has been unbelievable - to share music that touches people like this is amazing."

Both musicians signed autographs during a reception after the last concert, and both tried to decipher accolades in Flemish, the regional dialect. Fans brought programs for signatures and scraps of paper. Children pointed to their outstretched arms and asked, Mag ik een handtekening, alstublieft? ("May I have your autograph here, please?")

"It has been an honor to be here," Gilmore said. "Audiences have been willing to see beyond language barriers and skin color - and I think that we have successfully spread a little light."

Long after Gilmore and Byrd left the concert, the reception hall was filled with the sound of voices singing "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," and "Oh Happy Day." The concert ended at 11 p.m., but people stayed and sang until 3 a.m.

"We will let this light shine whenever we can, for as long as possible," said Krista De Kinder, director of Mozaeik. "A lot of people became better people after all of this. The music had a big effect not only on the audience, but also the choir. No one expected to be so into it."

Nathalie De Coen of Borsbeke, Belgium, translated for this article.

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