FaithHamil R. HarrisReligion

Zooming Faith Music: From Sanctuaries to Global Stage

What began as a precaution to prevent the spread of the coronavirus has ushered in a new way to deliver church music online, with veteran singers and producers insisting singing on Zoom and other social media outlets is more effective than performing in brick-and-mortar venues.

On a recent Friday night singers, poets and musicians performed on Facebook Live and Zoom during an “open mic,” that was hosted by the Open Church of Maryland, a Baltimore County congregation that since March has hosted dozens of artists from the area as well as from across the country.

“There is no better time in history for us to exercise our craft because of technology,” said Dr. Marco Merrick, founder of the Baltimore Community Choir and a member of the organizing committee for the church’s musical program that is attracting a new generation of singers, musicians and poets.

“I am grateful that we have these platforms that allow young people and seasoned artists to hone their skills, exercise their gifts and to support each other on platforms like Zooms,” Merrick said. “I am just grateful that the open church has open mic night.”

The idea for the open mic came from Rev. Lane Cobb, associate pastor of the Open Church of Maryland, but choir directors and musicians across the area are also using the internet to host musical programs at a time when traditional choir venues have been shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“They are coming from beyond Baltimore. It is so important to give people chances and opportunities,” said Vincent Stringer, a retired Morgan State University music professor. “This is a great opportunity for us as a community.”

From Baltimore to Washington and from Philadelphia to Alexandria, Va., the internet has brought singers and recording artists together. Earlier this month members of the University Parkway Church of Christ in Baltimore organized a “24-Hour Prayer Call,” with speakers and musicians taking part on Zoom and Facebook Live platforms from Georgia to Alaska and from England to Germany.

Andrea René Williams, a gospel industry insider and former area manager for the National Academy of Recording Arts and Scientist, said, “Because of the pandemic, artists have been forced to take their live shows online. Artists are holding virtual concerts and focusing on social media to connect with their fan base.”

Williams added, “It has been difficult to translate that personal experience to a strictly visual one, but the artists who are hustling and are using innovative concepts are still benefitting, despite the pandemic.”

D.C. composer and artistic producer Nolan Williams said he had two productions in the works in Nashville, Tenn., and Louisville, Ky., when COVID-19 hit and he had to quickly change things to fit online platforms. “This season has been about adapting.”

“Once I came back to the area it was about how do we look at the assets and move these projects forward,” Williams said. “We launched GracetheMusical.Com and I have the “I Have The Right to Vote,” video that just surpassed one million views. We now can reach a larger audience with our ability to adapt.”

Ricky Payton, founder and director of the BET Urban Nation Hip Hop Choir, said he is planning to have a Christmas concert on Zoom but it will take a lot of planning because it is the equivalent of producing a recording with different tracks and then creating a master recording.

“My son is a production wizard and I have not lost a beat,” Payton said. “It is hard to sing on a Zoom recording, you have to record the music in advance. You have to go into the studio and you master everything and then record singing in your Zoom but all of your parts are there.”

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Hamil R. Harris

Hamil Harris is an award-winning journalist who worked at the Washington Post from 1992 to 2016. During his tenure he wrote hundreds of stories about the people, government and faith communities in the Greater Washington Area. Hamil has chronicled the Million Man March, the Clinton White House, the September 11 attack, the sniper attacks, Hurricane Katrina, the campaign of President Barack Obama and many other people and events. Hamil is currently a multi-platform reporter on the Local Desk of the Washington Post where he writes a range of stories, shoots photos and produces videos for the print and online editions of the Post. In addition, he is often called upon to report on crime, natural disasters and other breaking issues. In 2006 Harris was part of a team of reporters that published the series “Being a Black Man.” He was also the reporter on the video project that accompanied the series that won two Emmy Awards, the Casey Medal and the Peabody Award. Hamil has lectured at Georgetown University, George Washington University, Howard University, the American University, the University of Maryland and the University of the District of Columbia. He also lectures several times a year to interns during their semester in the District as part of their matriculation at the Consortium of Christian Colleges and Universities.

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