Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Suffering in the heat to hear some great gospel music

Delaine and I went over to Springfield for the Ozark Empire Fair early this week. Radio station KWFC sponsored a concert by Ernie Haase and Signature Sound, a Southern Gospel quartet.

My parents are avid fans of gospel music; they're the kind of people who subscribe to The Singing News, glue their eyes to the TV when Bill Gaither and the Homecoming crowd come on the air, go to gospel music concerts and buy the CDs. When I was a kid, we listened to The Blackwood Brothers on vinyl all the time, it seemed, and my dad took me to some concerts in Springfield. I remember seeing The Oak Ridge Boys long before "Elvira," back when they sang nothing but gospel.

I was never a huge fan of Southern Gospel; my musical preference is bluegrass. Nevertheless, I like Southern Gospel music and listened to it off and on throughout the years. Last Christmas my mother gave me a couple of CDs of songs recorded over the years by The Cathedrals. One of them is "O What a Savior." Tenor Ernie Haase takes the lead on that song for The Cathedrals, and I don't get tired of hearing it. I have lost count of the number of times I have played it and replayed that track, while driving to and from work. Here's Ernie with The Cathedrals:

I played that video for Delaine some weeks ago, and she was awestruck. A former Sweet Adeline barbershop chorus singer who was married for several years to a brilliant and award-winning tenor barbershopper, Delaine appreciates good harmony and great tenor singing.

Consequently, when she found out Ernie Haase and Signature Sound were going to be at the fair, she said, "We have to go." She scraped up some money and reserved some seats just nine rows back.

The concert was last Monday night. It was hot. Our seats were down on ground level in front of the stage, down where the air was still. The fair personnel had zip-tied the folding chairs together so they could cram more people in, but his old hillbilly took out a pocket knife, cut the zip-ties and spread the chairs out. We had our KWFC cardboard fans on a stick, and we kept those going throughout the concert. Ernie sang his signature song fairly early in the first half of the concert. He introduced the man who was his voice teacher at Bolivar for one year before Ernie quit school to take a job with a quartet, and he sang that song for the elderly gentleman. Here's a Signature Sound version of that great song:

After hearing that song, I told Delaine, "Do you want to leave? I heard what I wanted to, and it's hot. I'm ready to go if you are." She wanted to stay, and I'm glad we did. We fanned through the entire concert, and despite the discomfort, the evening was uplifting, edifying and entertaining.

The heat index was well above 100, and I know the four singers and their three-piece band were likely more uncomfortable in the heat than I was. I'm kind of ashamed for even thinking about leaving early. EHSS both ministered to us and gave us a good show; they didn't cut it short, despite the heat. They gave us the full performance; I guess you'd call that artistic integrity.

Was it a good show? Well, there were three or four standing ovations; that ought to tell you something. I had never seen EHSS. They don't just stand, "rare back" and sing. They obviously consulted with a choreographer. They add quite a bit of humor, too. It wasn't a stuffy show; it looked and felt contemporary. It even sounded contemporary, BUT it also sounded rooted in the traditions of the music I heard on vinyl when I was a kid. I don't know how they pull that off, but they do it well.

I hope to get to hear Ernie Haase and Signature Sound again someday, and if you get a chance to see them, go.

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