Touch of Gospel § Pilsner Gospel Choir

The History

So, how and when did this whole story begin? Tell us, Grandpa... Fear not, gospel music tradition in Pilsen isn’t that long – it can’t be, frankly speaking. The question stands like this: which moment or which event is to be considered the origin of the choir as it is today? As already mentioned in the About us page, the evolution of the choir was a tranquil process with no "Charter Meeting", so it would be quite inappropriate to speak about founding it – it simply appeared, came amiss... no: came into flower – that’s the right word to call it!

However, there are two possible candidate years as to the year of birth of our singing lot: 1991 or 2002. If you are keen on finding out why, the next lines are the right stuff to read.

Prehistory (1991–1994)

The ranking members of the choir of today started to meet in order to rehearse and practice the "church" music some time in 1991, not a year after Pilsen had welcomed the first Salesian missionaries who founded the Salesian Youth Centre in the Pilsen borough of Lobzy. The main purpose of these early meetings was purely liturgical as it gave rise to a church choir, humble in size, called in our church practice schola, and the sort of "core" of the present choir still serves as one of the several scholae at the Salesian Sts Martin and Prokop Church today. As the Salesian mission focuses mainly on working with children and young people, one can hear music a bit different from the traditional (still rather "neo-Baroque") Czech liturgical music at their services. Plus, this also explains why most of the people active in the scholae at the Salesian churches are mainly students and, generally, young people. Pilsen was no exception and accordingly, the repertoire reflected the age and music preferences of the schola members. Rather than from the traditional Catholic hymnbook, songs from several "alternative" folk or guitar songbooks (such as Cantate or Hosana) would be selected and performed. Also, the instrumental support corresponded to this unorthodox style: there was no organ, but a band consisting of one or two acoustic guitars, double-bass, and occasionally a recorder, violin etc. (by the way, the organ, moreover in its electronic form, appeared in the portfolio of instruments only in 2003. As it was, we were nothing else than a Christian folk band with an extended vocal section, which means that there were about 5–8 singers gathered around one or no mike.

Classical Intermezzo (1994–1996)

With the intention of refreshing and enriching the repertoire, in this period several "classical" acapella choir compositions were rehearsed and performed. At that time, the choir amounted at ca. 12 people evenly distributed among the four voices. Apart from the classical pieces we still kept singing some of the "guitar" songs and also spirituals, but performed mainly acapella. However, it was at that time that we experienced the first "touch of gospel" when the choir rehearsed two songs from the Sister’s Act 1 movie; these even were at at least one occasion performed in nuns’ costumes (male voices included!) In this period, the first "coming out of the church walls" took place now and then as we performed in our first small concerts, most typically outdoor (Adam Michna’s of Otradovice Baroque songs in freezing Advent or Christmas season), on different charity events etc.

The Dark Age (1996)

Every community that brings together people of different walks of life and different views sometimes happens to be a battlefield of ideas that at times turn out to be incompatible one with another. Out choir was not spared this either, but the new Captain managed to bring the plane back to safer flight levels (thanks, Michal).

Rocking the Stone (1996–2000)

After a vast personnel changes and reconstruction (one is tempted to call it "resurrection"), accompanied by a search for a new repertoire and general philosophy, one of the crucial moments came about when the band was formed, consisting of a bass guitar, drums, and an acoustic and electrophonic guitars. As there still were not much singers, the repertoire was restricted to the earlier mentioned sources (Cantate, Hosana); but the arrangements were much more rock-like, making the most of the new band.

"But we still hadn’t found what we were looking for", so to say. In the darkest (or perhaps brightest?) corners of our musicians’ souls, the unfulfilled love named Spiritual & Gospel was still dormant and waiting to be let out. And then, let out it was …

The B.H.D. (before Happy Day) Era (2000–2001)

As more and more new members joined the choir, the listed songs could be re-arranged for three or four voices and not only the new blood was calling for new songs. One of the ways was to engage once again some of the older songs – so the long forgotten classical spiritual I'm So Glad (Jesus Lifted Me) experienced glorious comeback, this time accompanied by the band and played pretty swiftly. The final arrangement was a sort of a crossover of Bavarian brass-band, Jamaica reggae a Balkans gallopade à la Emir Kusturica Band, but believe it or not – both the choir and the audience took fancy in it! And so, vigorous search begun for new texts, scores and recordings of gospel music. No need to stress that the movies Sister’s Act 1 and 2 were taken into account again as they provided probably the most popular reservoir of music of that kind. This "Whoopi Goldberg Revival" :o) was a very important milestone in the history of the choir, as the SA’s Volume 2 features Edwin Hawkins’ Happy Day. Well before the creative designers of the "Happy Day Orange Juice" commercial, most people in the choir fell in love with this song and searched hard until they managed to put together several almost illegible scores and a couple of low-rate recordings; thanks to enormous effort of one of the members (thanks, Lucka) a viable score was written. The choir delved into rehearsing this Mother of Gospels at one of its regular autumn workshops and a new era was about to begin …

Waiting for ... Hans Christian (2001–2002)

No, not speaking about the fairy-tale writer Andersen but his Danish compatriot, someone Jochimsen – for an explanation see below.

And so the choir learnt the Hawkins’ Happy Day; from the previous periods there were stuck somewhere in the memory some spirituals (in words: two – the above-mentioned I’m so Glad plus the versatile Christmas-Easter double Sing Out the News). As the choir members cast demand for more of this stuff, even more vigorous search began.

Gospel for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner (… happily ever after)

In March 2002, the first Gospel Workshop in the Czech Republic was organized by people today gathered (together with our "Captain" Michal) around the non-profit organization Gospeltrain. As the workshop was taking place in our hometown (Pilsen), three-person reconnaissance set out to "be there, see it and do it". In the course of time, this event has proven to be the crucial turning point in the history of our choir (and the Touch of Gospel Choir has been a regular participant in all the subsequent GW that now take place on a yearly basis).

Now, that was what we were looking for: new repertoire, new rehearsal methods, call-response combination, solo-choir-band synchronisation… all this served by a charismatic Danish "boy" with a disarming smile and abysmal creative ability, Hans Christian Jochimsen. Shards of experiences and early humble trials and errors started to match one another to compose a mosaic that eventually gave birth to the Touch of Gospel Choir. Today, standing on the rostrum, we amount to about thirty heads; the band engaged a keyboard in 2003 and another one in 2006, occasionally seasoned by the wind section (saxophone).

We have quite a few concerts all around the country in our CV, recordings are being made for our first disc, people and songs come and go... One thing, however, remains as solid as rock: the joy of singing and belief that this is our genuine vocation to spreading the Good News among the God’s people.

Praise be to God for this and thanks to all of you who have been around and involved.

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