The Sacramento Choral Calendar
Capital Christian Center & Genesis Church
We Are Better Together: Martin Luther King Jr. 2017 Celebration - January 15, 2017
by Dick Frantzreb
Martin Luther King Jr. Day was first observed in 1986, and, as a member of the now-defunct Sacramento Symphony Chorus, I participated in one of the early choral celebrations of the day in the early 1990s, though I don’t recall much about it. In the years since, the Sacramento observance of the holiday ― at least as far as choral music is concerned ― has been institutionalized as a collaboration between the Capital Christian Center and Genesis Church (and its musical heart, the Porter Brothers). This year I felt I needed to experience this annual event and report on it to others who are curious about it.
“We Are Better Together,” the 2017 Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration, was to start at 5:30 on this Sunday evening, but the lobby of the Capital Christian Center was already busy when I arrived a half-hour early. There were 20 or so booths: community service organizations (most Christian-based), national social service organizations, the host churches (Genesis and Capital Christian Center), the County Probation Department and Juvenile Justice Center, and tables selling hats and other materials promoting the march that was to take place the next day. There was a lot to take in.
This was my first trip to the Capital Christian Center, and from where I sat, I couldn’t see the second level of seats, but I’d guess that the sanctuary could accommodate 1500 to 2000 people. By the time the event started, the first floor was full, but not packed. The audience seemed almost evenly mixed from a racial point of view.
The same even racial mixture was true of the choir, which was in place on the church’s stage when I entered. At about 5:10 there was activity among the musicians. The choir stood, and the instrumentalists got ready to play. Among them, there were 6 brass players, a variety of electric guitar and bass players, an organist and people on other keyboards, plus a couple of drummers.
The choir had been advertised as the MLK Celebration Choir, a 100-voice-plus group consisting of multi-ethnic participants from church choirs around the Sacramento area. That appeared to be true, though I couldn’t count more than 80 or so singers, not including the 9 who were out front on microphones and spread along the front of the stage whenever the choir was singing.
Throughout they were led by Drs. Tecoy and Ellington Porter. I’m sure most of the choir members on this evening were members of the Genesis Choir led by the Porters, and this must have been very much what it would have been like to experience them performing on a Sunday at Genesis Church.
At 5:30 the choir stood and delivered a medley of “Ride On, King Jesus” and “In That Great Gettin’ Up Mornin’.” For this – and all the other points in the program where the choir sang – there was swaying and handclapping on the stage, expressing an enthusiasm and pure joy that electrified the church’s sanctuary. Many in the audience responded with clapping or arms raised over their heads – and singing along, since the words to each song were displayed at the bottom of the video feeds on the two large screens on the stage. It was also easy to sing along because the lyrics and music repeated so much. And when the band dropped out briefly, it was obvious that most of the people in the room were singing.
After the choir’s first song, there was a welcome by the Capital Christian Center’s Senior Pastor, Rick Cole. After that, it felt like there was 20 minutes of solid performance by the choir, the out-front soloists, and a team of teenage dancers who added to the energy that overflowed the stage.
For perspective, keep in mind that this was fundamentally a religious experience (an offering was even taken during which we were urged to “give sacrificially”). Over 2-1/2 hours there were a lot of prayers and sermons, as you can deduce from the attached program (click here to open it in a new window). The Difference Maker Awards honored 7 truly impressive people from the Sacramento area for their lives of service, and this segment of the program took a half-hour.
Reverend Earl Smith was billed as the keynote speaker. He became Chaplain at San Quentin Prison at the age of 27 in 1983 and spent 27 years as a prison chaplain. Currently he is Chaplain of the San Francisco Forty-Niners and Golden State Warriors, and his charisma was apparent in what was more of a sermon than a keynote address.
You can see from the program that there were many points in the evening when the choir was performing. Actually though, I didn’t experience this event as a choir performance. Whether it was actually the case, it felt like only about 25% of the evening was singing. Also, with the prominent brass and other accompaniment, I can’t say I ever discerned any harmony ― just melody. The singing was more of an emotional expression of faith to get the audience actively involved ― which they were from the start. And still, from my perspective it was moving to see and hear choir and audience experiencing such uninhibited joy.
I’ve tried to give readers a sense of what it was like to be present at this event, but you don’t have to rely on my words. As I write, a full video (2-1/2 hours long) is available on the Capital Christian Center’s Facebook page (www.facebook.com/capitalchrdistiancenter/videos, scroll down to “All Videos.”). Check it out and get your own feel of what it was like to be present at this impressive celebration.