Photos courtesy of photographer Peter Rodgers

The year 2022 wrapped up on a sweet note with the final strains of “Gospel Carols Choir 13”, held Dec. 17, at High Point Church in Madison.

Celebrating its 13th year, the concert returned to an in-person performance venue after a two-year break due to the pandemic.  The last two years’ concerts were offered in virtual format.

Featuring over a dozen holiday carols arranged by Leotha Stanley and inspired by the gospel spirit, the songs were performed by the eight-member Gospel Carols Chorus, representing singers from Mt. Zion Baptist Church and other communities.  The choir was backed by a 25-piece orchestra led by composer, director and concert producer Leotha Stanley on keyboard.  The annual concert is organized and produced by Musicallee, a nonprofit organization headed by Leotha and Tamera Stanley.   

The Gospel Carols Concert has become a tradition in the Madison area and reflects Stanley’s upbringing in blues, jazz and gospel music. Its first year was held at Mt. Zion Baptist Church and its venue and audience has grown steadily ever since.  Now event producers report that they have “a following!”

Each year the concert premiers a new musical work written and scored by Leotha Stanley.  This year’s creation was “Christmas Bells – The Message They Ring.”

Asked how he creates and chooses the theme for each new work, Stanley reports that he waits for a moment of inspiration.  Sometimes it happens when he is at the keyboard, other times it might be a riff or interlude that he is working on.  In the case of “Christmas Bells – The Message they Ring,” he recounts playing around with notes for a bell interlude.  He developed a sequence that he liked, and that segment became the core and inspiration for a whole new song.

This creative spirit is something that Musicallee works to nurture in young people.  Midpoint in the performance, Stanley announced the donation of stringed instruments to six area middle school students.  The donation is made possible by Musicallee, Heid Music and the Edith Olsen Music Foundation.  John Demain, the Madison Symphony Orchestra Director, gave words of encouragement.

In addition to the Choir and Orchestra performance, Stanley often takes the mic out to the audience for audience solos.  He recalls the time an 85-year-old audience member thanked him for the opportunity of a lifetime — “You made me feel like a star!”

 Gospel Carols always has a theme of Love, Joy, Peace and Happiness.  When the evening concluded, you could Identify with the bells for it was truly “The Message They Ring!”