New Mexican gospel music may seem an oxymoron, but, according to Mary Bruschini, director of the Taos Gospel Choir, there is some evidence that there are historical spiritual roots representing the genre right here in the Land of Enchantment — in small town New Mexican gospel churches.
Whatever past gospel may have had in our state, Bruschini, a former New Yorker, is making sure that gospel music is a vibrant part of community life in Northern New Mexico today.
The Taos Gospel Choir, under Bruschini’s direction, will perform Sunday [(Dec 16)], 6:30-9:30 p.m., in the Adobe Bar at The Taos Inn, 125 Paseo del Pueblo Norte.
The concert is free, but there is likely to be a packed house and standing room only for this perennially favorite show. Early arrival is encouraged for those who want a seat in “the living room of Taos.”
Bruschini grew up relishing gospel music in Brooklyn’s black churches. When she moved to Taos she missed it, so she decided to start a community gospel choir. The group practices once a week for two hours, and is open to new singers who have an interest in the genre and an ear for pitch and harmonies and a sense of rhythm. It’s 16-year roll call includes some of Taos’ most beloved voices.
There are a varying number of choir members at any given time, with a core group of members that have remained consistent over the years, as well as those who come and go. Bruschini doesn’t hold formal auditions, but newcomers are welcome to sit in for a rehearsal and try it out.
“The bottom line,” Bruschini says, “is you gotta love this kind of music.”
One of the joys for Bruschini and the choir members is getting together every week to create live music. Bruschini said that the music becomes a spiritually uplifting force for those who are a part of the choir — it helps them to get through hard times.
For The Taos Inn show the Taos Gospel Choir singers will include Patti Jayne, Barbara Malisow, Linda Ferris, Melody Romancito, Stephanie Lee, Chris Pedler, Skip Sockwell, Deb Curtis, Linda Stokas, Rick Haltermann, Barbara Davis and Ana Easter. Bruschini will play piano, and Haltermann will play slide guitar and bass as accompaniment.
The choir will perform music from their vast repertoire including material from the early gospel legacy such as The Staple Singers, The Caravans, Dorothy Love Coates, early Aretha Franklin as well as songs from some of today’s gospel choirs.
According to Bruschini, there has been a surge of interest in gospel music in the past decade.
“It’s just having a heyday. It’s getting around. Everybody’s hearing more about gospel music,” she said. “It’s amazing because it’s been going on forever. It’s having a real renaissance, I think.”
The African American contribution to music “has been mammoth in this country,” Bruschini emphasized, adding that gospel music has become popular in Taos because “it’s a way to connect with soul-based music.”
In addition to directing the Taos Gospel Choir, Bruschini teaches at the Taos Youth Music School and at the Northern New Mexico Community College in Española. The college has recently developed a four-year music program that offers a way for New Mexicans in the northern part of the state to receive musical training without traveling far from home.
Bruschini said that for a recent performance the Española choir was able to integrate a young rap artist into their concert. The reason, she explained, is that gospel music is the root of all forms of African American musical genres. This allows for a fusion of modern forms such as rap and hip-hop with early gospel spirituals in a flawless manner that adds flavor and nuance to the music.
“These things are natural fusions, said Bruschini. “Good fusion is additive, bad fusion diffuses the form. I would say that African American music history is very rich and very connected. It’s not like there are these big walls between them.”
For those interested in learning more about the history of gospel music, Bruschini recommends the recently produced documentary “Rejoice and Shout.” “It’s one of the best historical films on gospel — with amazing footage.”