Commentary

Saunders: Cary church scores special performance from African Children's Choir

bsaunders@newsobserver.comJune 26, 2013 

AFRICANCHOIR01.NE.082612.AR

African Children's Choir performs at Wylie Magnet School in Raleigh, NC on August 26, 2012.

ALIANA RAMOS — aramos@newsobserver.com

At Providence First Baptist Church in Rockingham, we used to think visiting choirs and preachers from Charlotte, Cheraw or Piney Grove – actually, from anywhere outside the city limits – were exotic beings who increased our level of sophistication simply by gracing us with their presence.

Our country selves wouldn’t have known what to make of the visitors who’ll worship and sing at White Plains United Methodist Church in Cary on Sunday. The internationally acclaimed African Children’s Choir, in America preparing for a five-month Southern tour, accepted an invitation from the church’s pastor and will be there for the 9:45 a.m. and 11 a.m. services. The church is at 313 SE Maynard Rd. in Cary.

I asked Rusty McKinney, the church’s director of music, how the church pulled off such a coup and why the visit hadn’t been publicized. “It just came up Sunday,” he said. “They’re just kicking off their tour and had an available date. It was a very sudden thing.”

When the choir performs on the East Coast, he said, its home base is Mirembe House in Pittsboro. The Rev. Ray Warren is friends with a Mirembe House board member, McKinney said, and that relationship allowed the church to get to hear the choir that has performed for Nelson Mandela and Queen Elizabeth, and performed with Queen, Wyclef Jean and Alicia Keys.

The angelic-voiced choir members range in age from 7 to 10 and are tutored while traveling. “My wife had to jog my memory,” McKinney said, “but when we lived in Utah, our kids went to a Lutheran parochial school. One of their teachers had spent years traveling with them.”

Joyful noises

The joyful noise they make while traversing the globe leads directly to other joyful noises – those made by hammers and saws and bulldozers as another well is being dug, or school or home or hospital is being built somewhere on the continent.

The choir was founded in 1984, so I wondered what some of its charter and early members have done since leaving. McKinney cited, among other things, a nurse, a lawyer and a television news anchor who started out with the choir. “One former member is now a doctor in the Ugandan village in which he grew up. The choir paid for him and his brother (who is also a doctor) to go to school,” he said.

McKinney was talking about Dr. Robert Kalysubula, whose story I found on the choir’s website. “Before I joined (the choir), I was actually out of school,” he wrote. “I didn’t have food to eat and I didn’t even have clothes to wear. ... They provided for me food, they provided for me shelter, and I was able to play with the others without fearing and wondering what I was going to eat the next day.”

The personal accomplishments become even more impressive when one considers that, like Robert and his brother, most of the children in the choir were destitute or orphaned, touched by war, famine or disease.

And yet they can still sing. Talk about a testament to the human spirit.

‘Just so precious’

White Plains church member Pam Payne said she has heard the choir before. “They are just so precious,” she gushed. “I mean to tell you you’ve got to come and hear them for yourself. They brought such joy to my heart.”

Getting the choir to the church Cary on such short notice “was a great opportunity for us,” McKinney said. “We had to cue up fast, but it was well worth it.”

Judging by Payne’s and his effusive praise, I suspect that anyone who hears this choir Sunday will say the same thing.

bsaunders@newsobserver.com or 919-836-2811

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