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Morehouse College Glee Club makes local debut

For nearly a century, the Morehouse College Glee Club has embodied excellence in both achievement and discipline.

The Morehouse College Glee Club, founded in 1911 at what was then Atlanta Baptist College, will make what is believed to be its local debut on Saturday, Nov. 17 when the Arts Association in Newton County presents the ensemble at The Church at Covington.

There's little doubt that the program the 45-voice group will present will make Arts Association patrons who see and hear it for the first time believe it was worth the wait.

"It's amazing to think we have a treasure like the Morehouse College Glee Club so close to us and we've never presented them," said Arts Association executive director Buncie Lanners. "They create a spine-tingling sound and we felt that they are at the top of their game with their amazing voices. We decided to host the concert at The Church at Covington because we wanted to have as many seats available as possible."

Lanners added that the Rev. Eric Lee, pastor of Springfield Baptist Church and Glee Club alum, used his connections to place the east metro area on the group's considerable performance schedule.

"The Morehouse Glee Club is a group that brings all parts of our community together," said Lanners. "It's a group everybody can respect and enjoy. We're very excited they're coming here. This is a wonderful opportunity to hear a world-class group."

The Glee Club comes to Covington just a few weeks before its annual holiday recitals in Atlanta, which includes its 81st annual Christmas Carol Concert with the Spelman College Glee Club and its four performances with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. In addition, January awaits with several different engagements in observance of the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

And then there's the group's annual spring tour, which finds the chorus in 15 different cities during a two-week period. Despite the fact that higher-profile dates are just weeks away, the Glee Club will be just as focused in Covington as they would be in Atlanta.

"I'm looking forward to it," said Morehouse senior Kyle Stewart, a bass who has performed with the group for four years. "We always look forward to visiting new cities. It's another place to share the Morehouse experience."

Stewart said the Glee Club's strong tradition and reputation interested him before he even enrolled at Morehouse.

"I had heard of the Morehouse Glee Club before I enrolled at Morehouse," said Stewart, a psychology major who's minoring in music. "Their entire presentation stirred me and I knew I wanted to be a part of it. When I got (to Morehouse) I told myself, 'I've got to do this.'"

Adhering to the Glee Club's busy schedule while keeping up in the classroom is a trial for even the best time manager, and Stewart said balancing the ensemble with school requires an unusual amount of focus.

"Because I've been here four years, I know what you have to do," said Stewart during a recent telephone interview as the group was traveling to Dallas, Texas. "But it is a challenge and each year brings a different balancing act. I'm also busy with a lot of other things, so (being in the Glee Club) helps me stay on task and stay disciplined."

The group, which has been under the direction of David E. Morrow (Morehouse Class of 1980 and a Glee Club alum) since 1987, has performed in many prestigious venues with a host of talented artists, including Stevie Wonder, Jessye Norman, Gloria Estefan, Natalie Cole, Trisha Yearwood and Take 6.

Of the many times he's been onstage, two performances stick out in Stewart's mind as being extra special.

"In May of 2005, we sang in the Bahamas, which was very interesting and enjoyable," he said. "And this season we did a concert in my hometown of Shreveport, La., which was truly awesome."

Although he didn't detail the group's plans for its Covington concert, Stewart said the program would include spirituals and anthems, shape-note hymns and a variety of selections by African-American composers.

"We have a repertoire of at least 15 or 20 pieces, probably more," he said. "We rehearse four days a week for at least an hour and a half and add rehearsals to prepare for the Christmas and King celebrations. And no matter where we perform, we'll display the same level of concentration. Every engagement, no matter how small or how large, is important to us."

Chris Starrs is a freelance writer based in Athens, Ga. If you have a feature story idea, contact Karen Rohr, features editor, at karen.rohr@rockdalecitizen.com.

SideBar: If You Go

What: The Morehouse Glee Club, presented by the Arts Association in Newton County and The Church at Covington

When: 8 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 17

Where: The Church at Covington, 11975 Hwy. 142 in Oxford

Cost: Tickets are $22 for adults, $19 for seniors and $5 for students. For more information, call 770-786-8188 or visit www.newtoncountyarts.org.