Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Book Review

Singing God's Work- The Inspirational Music, People and Stories of the Harlem Gospel Choir by Allen Bailey founder and director with Penelope Holt

Hallelujah!  I have finally finished reading this book and can now review it for Librarything.  Really it should not have taken me so very long as it is a slim volume of only 159 pages. 

The book was written by Allen Bailey, founder and director of the Choir with Penelope Holt.  Penelope has written two other books - The Apple and The Painter's Gift.  Her other two books are described as "visionary fiction that explore dreams and the power of the creative unconscious to create personal reality."  While Singing God's Work is non-fiction, I think a similar theme runs through this work.

Singing God's Work is published by York House Press.  York House Press seems to publish mostly business and management books so this publication seems an exception to their usual bill of fare.

The author's intention was to give fans "a better understanding of the Choir, its mission, its music, its ministry, its joyful noise."

Each chapter opens with a tribute to the Harlem Gospel Choir from fans all over the world - from Australia to the Czech Republic.  The Choir has been going for 23 years now and Allen has logged over two million miles with them as their manager.

When I started this book, I got about 50 pages in and then lost interest.  I felt like I was reading a book the subtitle of which should have been - Famous People I have Met. Allen Bailey does acknowledge that not everyone he mentions in his book will be well-known to others (particularly those not from the US) and so he helps us by describing them as "best-known", "prominent", "influential", "legend" and so on.  Phrases like "he never forgot his roots or where he came from" is the highest praise he bestows.  I found much of the prose repetitive and tiresome.

But not finishing the book is unfair and so I made a concerted effort to do so.  I think it is fair to say that the book continued in much the same fashion with a few exceptions.  It was about two thirds of the way through that I realised what my expectations were ....I wanted to know about the choir itself.  Chapters Seventeen through to Nineteen go some way to addressing this need.  One chapter highlights about eight of the singers or former singers, another talks about the fans and their response to the music and the last chapter talks about the challenges of being on tour.  I was most interested to learn that "the three countries with the greatest appetite for the classic gospel...are Japan, Italy and Ireland."  I kind of get Ireland and maybe even Italy, but Japan???  I would have liked to know more about this interesting phenomenon.

Allen Bailey is to be commended for taking the time to document the work of the Choir.  We need more stories of how ideas or dreams are made real. "It takes a team to create a dream" is one of his favourite quotes from Uncle Pigmeat.  Unfortunately, I think he has forgotten this in creating this particular record.  A choir is a concert of many voices but I could hear only one voice and only one note.

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