fh-header fh-header fh-header fh-header

Members of the Barnett Chapel United Methodist Church Choir will add their gospel, soul, and spirituals to the special Gospel Roots Music concert this Saturday at the Pioneer Museum.

Tickets are now on sale for a night of gospel, soul, and spirit dancing at the Indoor Encore Gospel Night at the Pioneer Museum in Fredericksburg on Saturday, Oct 22. This special Roots Music concert will be held indoors at the Historic Sanctuary of the Pioneer Museum and features three musical acts: Jessica Hyde, the Brennen Leigh Trio, and the Barnett Chapel United Methodist Church Choir & Spirit Dancers, Kerrville.

Doors open at 6 p.m. Beer, wine, water, and sodas will be for sale. The former Sanctuary is located at 312 W. San Antonio Street in Fredericksburg. Seating is limited for this indoor concert. Tickets are $15 per person and available online at www.pioneermuseum.net. Children under 17 admitted free. Information at 830-997-2835, www.pioneermuseum.net, info@pioneermuseum.net.


webmaster: phil@fullhouseproductions.net

Gospel Roots - Our Fruits

by Phil Houseal
Oct 19, 2011


In the 1890s, there weren’t many churches in the small towns around the Texas Hill Country. That is why John Fifer rode his horse from Hondo to Bandera to Kerrville to Fredericksburg, preaching and singing the gospel any place he could find, often with only a spreading oak tree for shelter.

This Saturday, you can listen to John Fifer’s descendants singing some of those same gospel songs at a special Roots concert inside the historic sanctuary on the grounds of the Pioneer Museum.

Clifton Fifer is John Fifer’s great great grandson. Fifer and members of the Barnett Chapel United Methodist Church and Mt. Olive Baptist Church in Kerrville will present a show that grows directly from those roots.

“A circuit rider was the carrier of the good news of Christ,” Fifer explained. “He carried the gospel message to those communities - areas pretty remote in those times - and preach to whoever would listen.”

Fifer, a retired history teacher and lay speaker, has become an unofficial spokesman for history of the local African-American community. He is a popular presenter at living history days, pulling on his African and Native American heritage as a re-enactor, musician, singer, and storyteller.

The Roots Gospel concert is a rare opportunity for people to hear the moving sound of a full gospel choir. Gospel music is based on the “call and response” patterns used by slaves as they worked in the fields.

Slaves picking cotton would holler, with the next one picking it up and repeating, until it became a full “symphony” of sound. These songs had several purposes, some hidden.

“The purpose was that it helped keep time, and helped pass the time they were working,” Fifer said. “But it was also often a way to deliver a message.” Fifer sang out a phrase in his rich baritone, “Where you going?” Then he sang the response, “Going home, children.”

“That might mean, ‘We are going to meet by the river later to worship.’”

Fifer explained that in the time of slavery, the word spoken by a white preacher would only be what the owners wanted the slaves to hear. But when they slaves gathered at the river, they had their own style of preaching.

“Their message was more about the refinement of the soul, of leaving this earth and finally being free.”

That message was so subversive that the preachers would cover their heads with bowls and blankets to muffle the sound so it wouldn’t get back to the big house.

Lorraine LeMon - who will present a praise dance designed for this concert - calls them “field hollas.” “That’s ‘soul’ - making work a pleasure through movement and song,” she explained.

LeMon is Executive Director of Art2Heart, an organization that shows how music and dance ties the world together and pulls races together. She is a dynamic dancer, choreographer, and singer. Her presentation, “Journey of the Silver Chord,” is a moving pageant that shows how the black culture took “something from nothing and made something.” Her inspiring message: “What is from our roots, will be in your fruits.”

While gospel music was uplifting, the slave culture also created the spiritual. According to Fifer, these were inspired by African themes, and came out as humming or chanting. Fifer demonstrated by crooning a few bars from “Steal Away.”

The church that Fifer’s great great grandfather established in 1897 is the oldest African-American church in the community. When Reverend David L. Schuler arrived at the Barnett Chapel United Methodist Church in 2006, they couldn’t afford a piano. So the choir sang a cappella for the whole year. His vision of acquiring a clavinova came to life, and the choir now performs every Sunday with musical accompaniment, and is working on a second CD recording.

While the focus is on the music at this performance, Reverend Schuler leaves no doubt you cannot separate the worship and praise inherent in gospel music.

“If you are not coming to worship God, then just enjoy some good music,” Reverend Schuler said. “But if you come to worship God, you will enjoy it and walk away with a greater experience. With our ministry, you can’t put that in a box.”

Clifton Fifer sees this concert as a natural extension of what his great great grandfather was doing under the trees 120 years ago.

“I hope folks leave with a smile on their faces and knowing that they have heard a group of people who came not only to entertain, but to educate and share their love of Christ with other Christians.”