Naval Academy choir gets into the spirit with new director

In the region

September 20, 2006|By Bradley Olson | Bradley Olson,sun reporter

Standing before a new director, the midshipmen in the Naval Academy Gospel Choir seemed a little nervous. The music was lethargic, as though everyone was holding back. The harmonies didn't quite gel, didn't quite come together to reach that glorious depth of sound that can shake the ground and make the skin tingle.

At one point, Karla Scott, who recently replaced 17-year director Joyce Garrett, stopped and ask the Mids to raise their hands if they "don't like change." Many complied.

Still, she introduced a new song, "Amen, Siakudimisa," a popular spiritual sung in Xhosa - the language of one of the largest ethnic groups in South Africa. Translated, it means: "Amen, We Praise Your Name, O God."

Scott stomped and tapped her leg to the rhythm and paused only to teach the choir members a way of swaying and clapping with the beat.

"Tenors have the bangingest harmony in this whole song," she said, getting a laugh. "It is vicious."

The volume quickly went up, and the midshipmen - most dressed in khakis and blue shirts marked with the Naval Academy insignia - began to move freely, many singing with broad smiles. After a few measures, the various harmonies were indistinguishable, and the music became almost thunderous.

So much for not being adaptable. Sept. 11 was Scott's third practice and she plans to have the choir ready for its October concert, where they will unveil In His Presence, a new CD recorded this spring. The choir records an album once every four years.

"This is one of my favorite things," Scott said after the rehearsal. "I love ministering and teaching young people who need to be motivated and encouraged."

A classically trained vocalist who is just beginning her career as a choir director, Scott has performed all over the world, singing at the Washington funeral for Rosa Parks and for Nelson Mandela. She holds musical degrees from East Carolina University and the University of Maryland, College Park in vocal performance, and is pursuing a doctorate in vocal pedagogy.

Taking over the choir has been an honor, Scott said, adding that Garrett is a national icon in the realm of gospel music.

The Bowie resident recently gave up a job in the security industry to teach seventh- and eighth-grade English at a Christian private school in Upper Marlboro, and she sees her job at the academy as a way to link longtime passions of music and spirituality.

In addition to producing the CD, the choir will also go to Georgia in January for the seventh year in a row, singing at Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., his father and his grandfather were pastors. The students also perform at high schools and churches and answer questions about the Naval Academy for prospective applicants.

Brian Williams, 19, said he was inspired to come to the Naval Academy after the choir performed at his Los Angeles high school. He had often thought of being a naval aviator, and the choir's performance sealed the deal.

The Gospel Choir's CD release concert will be held at 5 p.m. Oct. 21 at First Christian Community Church in Annapolis. The concert is free. Information:

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