On the weekend of 13th and 14th April 2019 the first edition of the One Heart International Gospel Festival in Barcelona took place. It was an international gospel music meeting in which around 500 gospel choir singers from 10 different European countries had the privilege to share workshops, masterclasses and concerts with first-level figures of the European and Noth-American Gospel scene.
This initiative, organized by Ramón Escalé, Esclat Gospel Singers and Barcelona Gospel Messengers with the collaboration of Blanca Gallo from Gaudi-U-Música , Amazing Gospel and Gospel Clot, has been a great success in many levels: the didactic contents, organization, but above all, at the experiential and spiritual level.
On Saturday morning, when I arrived to the Fábrica Fabra i Coats in Barcelona, you could feel the emotion and the expectation of the participants in the air, who where willing to see what the team of the One Heart had prepared for them in this very special weekend. Just crossing the doors, I saw many friends and acquaintances of the Gospel scene, both singers and workshop participants of our Gospel Weekends, as conductors from many places. You couldn’t stop kissing, hugging and smiling everyone in the way! 🙂
At the back of the room, where in addition to the check-in tables and the bar, they had enabled an area for connection and exchange, where all the participants could leave the information of their choir or activity, Ramon was at the piano accompanied by some of his s singers, to welcome the participants singing known gospel songs to which everyone who entered was adding his voice.
You could feel a magical and exciting atmosphere from the first moment, and there was a particularly emotional moment when they began to sing “We Are Family” and continue with “Better Is One Day”. That was the feeling that many of the attendants shared, as suddenly a great international Gospel family was born, ready to share and enjoy the most of the experience.
When I went to the place where the first workshop was held, I found myself in front of a very emotional and happy Ramón, who greeted me with a big hug and a lot of kindness. Seeing someone who has been working for so many years for the gospel, fulfilling a dream of this magnitude with such a humble and authentic attitude, is something that you don’t find every day, and it really touched my heart. Coincidences of life, a great photographer, friend and habitual collaborator of Sing & Travel, Marta Pich, was covering the event and immortalized the moment I am telling you. I think Martha has captured the joy and emotion of Ramon in this picture.
Once inside, I sat in the Altos section with some friends, and after a while the great Donald Lawrence with two of his singers, Tobbi & Tommi, an incredible sisters with almost supernatural voices that gave you goosebumps from the moment the first note came out of their throats.
And what can I say about Donald Lawrence? I had the opportunity to enjoy a workshop with him at the True Worship Summit in London the previous year, and since then I am in love (musically speaking) of this gentleman. His elegance, his humility, his closeness, his know-how, his music, his arrangements, his lyrics… They really are a gift of God. He has a unique ability to touch people’s souls. His music has inspired me, helped me, given me strength and comfort in many moments, so you will understand that it was hard for me to hold my tears as I had the opportunity to see him and listen to him so closely for the second time. During these two days of workshops we had the opportunity to learn some of his greatest hits, like Giants, The Blessing of Abraham o Encourage Yourself.
In the afternoons there were some workshops held simultaneously, so we had to choose between the ones related to choir conducting by the great Bazil Meade, founder and conductor of the London Community Gospel Choir, one of the “fathers” of the European Gospel, workshops for soloists by the amazing Rebecca Thomas and Annette Bowen plus gospel history workshops holded by the musicologist David Álvarez.
The only pity? I would have loved to go to all these workshops, all of them seemed very interesting! I finally decided to attend to Bazil’s workshop for Gospel choir conductors on Saturday and the workshop about the history and future of gospel music that David taught.
Despite not being a choir director, I found it very illustrative to attend to Bazil’s workshop, as in the events that we organize in Sing & Travel, we create ephemeral choirs, of which I am in charge of the logistic and the event direction (our host conductors take care of the musical direction side during our Gospel Weekends), and it was very interesting to discover that many conductors of different places and backgrounds shared the same concerns.
Bazil was wisely counseling the choir conductors who were asking their concerns (for example: How can I keep my choir motivated? How do I integrate and make feel satisfied and valued singers of different levels within the same choir?) and we ended the meeting singing in a “Conductors’ Choir “, in which the participants took turns to lead, and by popular request Bazil conducted us to sing the classic Oh Happy Day.
In the case of David, we have been in contact through social media for a while, so I follow his work and his project Gospel World, but we did not had the opportunity to meet personally until that moment, so I was very interested in seeing his workshop and his work in person. I was pleasantly surprised and found his workshop super entertaining, fun, and necessary! With the growth that has experienced the movement of gospel choirs in Europe in recent years for its musical appeal, there are many gospel choirs of secular origin, so for many members of current gospel choirs there is an important gap in the culture about the origins, history and development of the Gospel music. He illustrated us with some very interesting examples like Rosetta Tharpe, Clara Walk, the Davis sisters or Leandr’ia Johnson, among others. I really liked his vision and his way of explaining things openly and without filters, in a close language and very understandable for those who do not come from the academic environment. He also invited us to experiment with the gospel and to continue creating this music.
On Sunday morning we had the opportunity to enjoy another workshop with Bazil Meade, who was helped by Becky Thomas, Annete Bowen and Neresa Maye in which we enjoyed, sang and danced with emblematic songs like Everlasting God or Until I Found the Lord.
And in the evenings? More Gospel! 😀 On Saturday we enjoyed a fantastic concert of Ramón Escalé with Messengers y Esclat Gospel Singers, with guest artists like the italian pianist Michele Papadia, Bazil Meade, Annete Bowen and the Sant Andreu Jazz Band conducted by Joan Chamorro, where we sang and danced to the rythm of songs like Souled Out or Brighter Day.
And to close the event, on Sunday we lived a very special concert in which all the participants sang the songs we’ve learned at the One Heart workshops sharing the stage with all those great artists. It was a thrillling end of the fiesta, who any of us wanted to finish. Neither the audience! They were asking for an encore, which was the famous song Giants by Donald Lawrence. If you wish, you can see the live retransmission I did of this song at the One Heart here.
I think there is only left to say a big THANK YOU, to all the people who were there and made One Heart something that none of us will forget. Beginning with Ramon Escale, for being the captain of this fantastic initiative and have the vision to unite so many people from different places, Blanca Gallo and the volunteers of Esclat Gospel Singers, Barcelona Gospel Messengers, Gospel Clot and Amazing Gospel, who took care that the event was running smoothly in the logistic side, to all the artists involved, especially to Bazil and Donald for the big gift of their music, energy and passion for the Gospel.
I believe that the One Heart has opened a door to the connections of the Gospel in Europe, and I hope it is the first of many editions, because as the name of the event says, you got us all together feeling like one heart beating at the same rhythm. Congratulations!
And to add a little contribution to keep this feeling and connection growing, we have created a Facebook group called “Gospel Music Lovers Europe” where we invite you to connect, share information about your choirs and events related to Gospel in Europe. This is just the beginning of many good things that are yet to come. The gospel is more alive than ever in Europe!