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Ernest Coleman | Special to The Journal Gazette
Voices of Unity director Marshall White parts the waters as the choir sings “Genesis (The Creation)” on Wednesday in Cincinnati.

Voices of Unity Choir hopes to end games on high note

Ernest Coleman | Special to The Journal Gazette
Fort Wayne’s Voices of Unity Youth Choir takes part in the gospel category at the World Choir Games in Cincinnati. The choir won the category at the 2010 competition in Shaoxing, China.

– It was 3:15 p.m. Wednesday, 15 minutes behind show time, and members of the Voices of Unity Youth Choir were anxious to take the stage.

On the other side of the backdrop, nearly 3,000 people were waiting to see the group perform in the World Choir Games in Cincinnati. The choir was the first act in the gospel competition – and it had a championship to defend.

An announcer mentioned technical difficulties. And more minutes ticked by.

Then, almost 30 minutes behind schedule, the choir got the chance to prove to the audience its performance was worth the wait.

“The nerves were starting to get to us,” choir member Nathan Jackson, 21, said after the performance. “We were back there for such a long time.”

The Voices of Unity Youth Choir, a self-described “soulful choral group,” is one of more than 360 choirs from 48 countries participating in the 7th World Choir Games, which started July 4. Organizers bill the event as the “Olympics of choral music” and say it’s the largest international choral competition in the world.

Previous games, held every two years, have been in Austria, China, Germany and South Korea. This year marks the first time the World Choir Games have been in the United States.

By the end of the two-week event, the Fort Wayne choir will have participated in five events, including opening and closing ceremonies. Voices of Unity placed well in the Popular Choral Music category Saturday, but it has its sights set on winning the gospel competition.

The choir was the world champion in the gospel category at the 2010 games in Shaoxing, China. And despite the fact that few of those veterans are still with the group, it hopes to win the title again.

The choir started out its set with “In the Sanctuary,” a lively song by Kurt Carr. Members beamed as they swayed back and forth, gesturing with their hands and letting out the occasional “woohoo.”

Although the crowd was tapping their feet throughout the performance, the song that really got them going was “Genesis,” a fast-paced number arranged by choir director Marshall White.

The song demanded that members sing like an orchestra, knowing exactly when to chime in and hitting every fast-paced beat in perfect timing. At one point, the choir split down the center, leaning back as if they were parted waters.

When the song was over, the audience rose and gave the choir a standing ovation. Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory and his entourage were visibly impressed, letting out a few “woos” of their own.

“I think we did fantastic,” Aliyah Byrd, 16, said after the performance. “We all had energy, and we hit the notes just right and the crowd went nuts.”

Jackson agreed.

“I think it went as great as it could,” he said. “We all felt it. Gospel is all about telling a spiritual story and I think we told it well.”

Voices of Unity competed for the championship against seven other teams hailing from Germany, Canada, South Africa and Indonesia and the United States. During opening ceremonies, the choir merged and practiced with two of its U.S. competitors so it could sing “I Can,” the anthem for the games.

Voices of Unity, which has youth ranging from ages 7 to 22, was the only youth choir to participate in the gospel competition.

Some might have argued that having a younger group would put the choir at a disadvantage. But not Myk’Angel Gaston, 11.

“I think it’s great for us, because we’re a very good choir,” she said.

Voices of Unity will find out how they faired during an awards ceremony Friday evening. Although they are officially done competing, they have several other performances during the games.

Although choir members said it would be great to win the championship, most said they were thrilled just to be part of the games. It was well worth it, they said, just to be able to see a new place, hang out with each other and meet new friends from different parts of the world.

“It’s not about the gold,” said Jocelyn Redmond, 15. “It’s about lifting our souls up to a higher level.”