Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Composer to Conduct `Gospel Mass' Sunday

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Composer to Conduct `Gospel Mass' Sunday

Article excerpt

Composer Robert Ray's "Gospel Mass" has been performed in most mainstream church denominations.

The work is based on the five parts of the Catholic Mass known as the Ordinary - the same text as Mozart, Schubert and Brahms used in the Mass settings of their compositions.

Ray will conduct the sanctuary choir of Faith United Methodist Church in excerpts of the work at the 10:45 a.m. service on Sunday.

The choir will perform several of Ray's other compositions, with solo work by Ray's wife, mezzo soprano Sylvia Ray. Ray will also give a presentation on gospel and its development over the past 200 years.

Ray is a member of the music faculty of the University of Missouri at St. Louis, where he teaches piano majors and directs the UMSL Community Choir.

Ray began writing gospel music in 1978 when he was teaching at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana and directing the school's all-black gospel singing chorus. He wrote the "Gospel Mass" in 1979. It was published in 1981.

Since then, the work has been performed at churches and colleges and by community choruses around the country. Those in religious music circles considered the work a breath of fresh air, Ray said.

"At the time, there was a folk Mass and a jazz Mass, but not a gospel based on the liturgy," he said. "It enjoys a rebirth every year, with some new group discovering it."

Gospel differs from conventional hymns by its syncopation, exciting rhythms and its intensity, he said.

"Gospel is really not performed for entertainment purposes. There is a message at its core. It tells the good news of Jesus Christ, and its primary purpose is to convert the listener," Ray said.

Ray credits Thomas Dorsey as the founder of modern-day gospel music. The vaudeville blues singer had a conversion in the early 1900s, after he lost his wife and baby in a fire in Chicago. Dorsey was performing in St. …

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