There are some experiences that are so special, so indelibly written on our hearts we never forget them. We had one recently, when William and Casiana Schmidt brought the American Spiritual Ensemble to the Sarasota Opera House for a pair of concerts, under the direction of founder and Music Director Dr. Everett McCorvey, to honor Susan Danis, the dynamic executive director of the Sarasota Opera.
There we were, sitting in our seats for the 6 p.m. performance. The house lights dimmed, the back doors flew open, and from the lobby of the theater, the most heavenly, divine sound of voices soared around us with a spirit, velocity and blend unlike anything — and I mean anything — I’d ever heard.
For the next two hours we were treated to the richness and musicality of these 26 professional singers, soloists all, who blended into such an incredible mass of sound, we were enveloped in richness more divine and holy than anything I’ve heard since the hay days of the Robert Shaw Chorale and the Roger Wagner Singers. This is the way choral music is supposed to sound, and every singing group in this country (and city) could benefit from hearing it.
All the singers were outstanding but we have to single out soprano Hope Koehler, whose voice in “I Wanna Be Ready” had the richness of Marilyn Horne at the bottom and the clarion clarity of Leontyne Price at the top. And then there was bass Kevin Thompson who delivered an “Ol’ Man River” so powerfully moving it brought the entire audience to its feet in a truly rip-roaring ovation.
How I wish you could have been there. In fact, all my singer-friends have gotten an earful about this concert, which was so special we can only hope there will be some way to bring the ensemble back to Sarasota to be heard by a larger audience in the near future.