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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
News >  Washington Voices

Gospel choir raises a voice to serve others

Group benefits MLK Center

Music frequently echoes through the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist. The soothing chimes of the handbell choir, the awesome tones of the tower’s carillon, the rich harmonies of Gregorian and Anglican chants performed by the Cathedral choir.

But Sunday night, a different type of melody will fill the sanctuary and warm the stone walls with a rich, upbeat sound.

The church is sponsoring Gospel in the Cathedral, a benefit for the Martin Luther King Jr. Family Outreach Center. The concert will feature the Spokane Community Gospel Mass Choir, the Montana Trombone Chorale and the Bethel B.A.S.I.C. Gospel singers.

For several years, St. John’s has hosted a benefit concert in January. They’ve had samba in the cathedral as well as swing and country performances, but by far the most popular was 2003’s Gospel in the Cathedral. More than 800 people attended and helped raise $6,000 for the Outreach Center.

Event organizer Rich Relyea said this year’s concert serves a threefold purpose; “to honor Dr. King Jr., to warm hearts and spirits on a cold winter night, and to support the Martin Luther King Jr. Center’s community service.”

In addition, the event showcases St. John’s Cathedral, a treasured Spokane landmark. Relyea said, “I think this is an incredibly beautiful place, but it’s almost staid and cold with all the stone walls.” He believes the passionate vitality of gospel music will bring the cathedral alive.

It will, if Sharon Cowan has anything to say about it. Cowan directs the Spokane Community Gospel Mass Choir and is excited about their cathedral debut. She said the 50-member group is diverse but has one thing in common: “We love gospel music.” As Cowan listed a few of the numbers they’ll be performing, she burst into song. “Hallowed be thy name,” she sang, then explained, “It’s a prayer. It’s about really reaching out to God.” Cowan sees the concert as a way to encourage the community to “look forward to a brighter day – a new day.”

Composer and recording artist Elisha Mitchell directs the Bethel B.A.S.I.C. choir. They performed for the 2003 benefit. “It was standing room only,” she recalled. The choir, accompanied by their four-piece band, looks forward to returning to the cathedral. Mitchell’s hope is that songs like “You are Good” and “God is in Control” will inspire attendees. “We want to get the audience motivated and participating,” she said.

Ben Luety is a member of the Montana Trombone Chorale. “My dad started the group 16 years ago in Missoula,” he said. The six trombonists’ repertoire spans seven centuries of music. They’ve toured Europe and performed with the Vienna Boys Choir and the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra.

For Luety, however, this concert has special meaning. He’s the president of the board of directors for the MLK Family Outreach Center. “Our mission is to improve the quality of life for children and families in the community, based on the framework of Dr. King’s vision,” he said.

They accomplish this through programs like Early Childhood Educational Assistance Program, child care, after-school activities, literacy and leadership projects, and parent education classes. In 2007, more than 2,000 individuals from more than 800 families participated in programs offered by the center. And, Luety said, “88 cents of every dollar goes directly to programs.”

King’s legacy will be invoked by the Rev. Happy Watkins of New Hope Baptist Church when he recites two of Dr. King’s best known speeches: “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” and “I Have a Dream.”

If Rich Relyea’s dream comes true, in addition to helping a worthy cause, the concert will provide “a heartwarming experience in the middle of a cold, dreary winter.”

Cindy Hval can be reached at
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