Arts Listings

Gospel Concert Benefits Berkeley High

By Ken Bullock Special to the Planet
Thursday October 02, 2008 - 09:40:00 AM

“Bringing Down the House for Berkeley High,” a benefit fundraiser for the Berkeley High School Development Group, featuring gospel and spirituals by the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, will be held Saturday in the school’s Schwimley Little Theater, Allston Way at Martin Luther King, Jr. Way. 

The event features a special 20-plus Student Gospel Choir to open the show, directed by choir soloist and JazzSchool instructor Trelawny Rose and the Oakland Interfaith Youth Gospel Choir with student dancers directed by Berkeley High Afro-Haitian dance instructor (and director of Oakland’s Diamano Coura Dance Co.) Naomi Washington-Diouf. 

In addition to the four performing groups, Berkeley High history teacher Wendell Brooks, an archivist of African-American music, will comment, along with other community members, on gospel and spirituals and the roots of American music, and sing a solo, “Great Gittin’ Up Mornin’ ” Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir artistic director Terrance Kelly will lead a sing-along, inviting the audience to join in.  

Among the goals of the concert, besides “raising sorely needed funds for Berkeley High’s student educational resources,” is sparking interest in a “renaissance” of choral music, including a gospel choir, at the 3,200-student school, which has had no choral music program since 2004.  

“Choral Arts is still listed in the curriculum,” said Mary Ford, chair for the event, “But it’s not being offered. Michael Morgan, music director and conductor for both Oakland East Bay Symphony and Festival Opera, expressed surprise and concern when he heard there’s no choral program at Berkeley High. It’s cost efficient, besides being uplifting and transformative, which is what singing with other people is all about.” 

Rose, a 20-year Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir veteran (soloist, ensemble and board member) who has been singing “since I was in first grade,” got the ball rolling for “Bringing Down the House” after reflecting on attending school arts programs.  

“My son’s in the Afro-Haitian Dance program, and I attended both concerts last year, thinking how incredible—so deep, so rich, so talented. But I noticed at different events how the audience would reflect overwhelmingly either the African-American or the white community, with just a few others not from whichever group dominated,” she said. “I asked myself what I could do to help with this two world thing. I knew the choir was something the community at large knows. It’s 23 years old, with awards and three CDs—and everybody understands its music and spirit, which bring people to tears. So I took the idea of a benefit to the Development Group, to try to find sponsorship, community support to broaden audiences and get them involved.” 

A volunteer organization with its first fundraising gala under its belt last spring, the Development Group began talking about the benefit “and things got moving in August.” Ford mentioned four others in particular who have been key to putting on the event: Rosemary Richie, Karen McKie, Fiona Hamer and Marjorie Alvord.  

“I started all this feeling self-righteous about it,” Ford said, “And now I feel totally humble. I can’t imagine how they accomplish what they do on the resources they have.”  

Concerning the future of a gospel choir at Berkeley High, she said, “It may have to start out as a club, then get back in the curriculum, along with more eclectic repertoire. We’re trying to get funding and a parents’ group to sponsor it. That’s how the Jazz program does it.”  

Mentioning that support has begun to come from different quarters, including the New Spirit Church at the Pacific School of Religion, Ford remarked, “Arts in public schools so often gets marginalized, and it takes a will of iron to navigate back, though there’s even research that it’s good for us—besides knowing that in our gut.” 


A fundraiser for the Berkeley High School Development Group featuring the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir. 7: 30 p.m. Saturday at  

Schwimley Little Theater, Berkeley High School, Allston Way at Martin Luther King, Jr. Way. For group and discounted tickets, contact Edith Jordan in Student Activities, 644-8990.