Blending like butter and sugar

The shimmering harmonies of New York's Glory Gospel Singers brought the audience to its feet

The Glory Gospel Singers thrilled the crowd with their vocal gymnastics.
The Glory Gospel Singers thrilled the crowd with their vocal gymnastics.PHOTO: JACK YAM/ESPLANADE



Esplanade Concert Hall/Last Saturday

In Singapore for the first time in their 20 years of touring the world, New York's Glory Gospel Singers thrilled with their shimmering harmonies, blending as beautifully as butter and sugar.

Their layered vocals gelled so well, especially on the soothing yet stirring Kumbaya, that they could take any dare - fading in and out, changing keys up and down, scatting on the highest notes, even unleashing a pitch-perfect series of Hallelujahs on Rossini's galloping William Tell Overture.

The only times they brought less joy was whenever they sang in unison. That exposed a thin, reedy sound and so it was head-scratching as to why they sang a cappella most of the time.

That weakness was evident from the start, when their dreamy harmony on I Will Follow Him wound up in unison, ending in the most mismatched vocal pairing of Dianna Sanders and Antoine Dolberry, who produced a thin, tinny finish.

The evening had begun with keyboardist Tyrae Brown, bassist Anthony "Shaunbass" Robertson and drummer Ryan Materre's cascade of ominous chords, as the nine singers hopped and bopped onto stage in grape-and-buttercup robes.

Four among them were showstoppers. Soprano Monica Soyemi sustained eye-watering high notes at will for long seconds, almost nonchalantly.

Barbara Clark then showed Soyemi how her talent could grow. Clark's husky voice cracked ineffably in melodic cadences, only to somersault with surprising suppleness to oxygen-defying highs, in a tinkly tone. What bliss.

Terelle Tipton roared with rage in his solo on Go Down Moses, which showcased the choir's four tenors.

Then Dawn Pruden Tharrington brought the house down with her sassy and sizzling change-up of Amazing Grace that had shades of Rihanna.

However, the singer who got the night's first standing ovation was not any among them but a lanky, bespectacled Chinese man in the audience, who belted out Hallelujahs that were toe-curlingly good. That was after the group's founder, Phyliss McKoy Joubert, went into the audience with her microphone on Michael Row The Boat Ashore.

She pulled him out of his seat and the audience leapt to their feet at his inspired improvisations, not caring that he stuck out like a sore thumb with his navy T-shirt and crumpled terracota-hued bermudas, alongside the African queen that Joubert was, in sequinned black taffeta from head to toe.

Afterwards, he told this reviewer he wanted to be known only as Chris, a 33-year-old postgraduate student.

Tenor Cortney Richardson, also a preacher,then conducted the choir in a rousing rendition of "We're happy to be in Singapore/We love you and we all are friends/Meet us on Facebook, Twitter too/So our relationship stays new/Amen."

With that and a long shout-out to the Esplanade for its consummate hosting, they declined encores after 16 songs as the crowd shimmied and cheered them out with three standing ovations.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 18, 2016, with the headline 'Blending like butter and sugar'. Subscribe