Hope for kindness. Hope for love. Hope for better tomorrows. 

That was the message shared at the 10th Gospel Carols concert at the Alliant Energy Center on Dec. 20. This annual event features Christmas music arranged in a gospel style by Madison’s first couple of gospel, Leotha and Tamera Stanley, including the premiere of a new song by Leotha Stanley titled, “Christmas Hope”. 

The Gospel Carols choir is a harmonious marriage between players drawn from the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO), members of the Mt. Zion Baptist Gospel Choir, and other churches from the surrounding area.  Concert goers are treated to a program filled with traditional Christmas carols with an infusion of soul.

The two initially began making beautiful music together 15 years ago when the Mt. Zion choir accepted an invitation to perform with the symphony during the orchestra’s holiday show at the Overture Center for the Arts. The appearance became a fan favorite, often bringing audiences to their feet in rousing standing ovations. 

“I get goosebumps,” said Pam Tauscher Coshun, host of MomsEveryday for NBC15 Madison of the gospel tunes. “It’s just beautiful.” 

It is out of the choir’s Christmas music collaboration with the orchestra that Gospel Carols grew in popularity, so much so that it made it necessary to move the concert to the Alliant Energy Center. 

“This inspiration for doing Gospel Carols is you (the audience),” said Leotha Stanley, who is also the director of the Mt. Zion Gospel Choir. “I remember starting out at Mt. Zion and it was just a few of us there. Then we went over to High Point, and then over to Sun Prairie school, then over to City Church, then over to Door Creek Church, then we expanded to the Alliant Energy Center and here we are!” 

The theme of hope was woven throughout the evening’s program, like vibrant tapestry on loom. 

“I want to tell someone today to keep the hope,” said Rev. Dr. Marcus Allen, pastor of Mt. Zion, one of Madison’s oldest and largest African American churches. “What you are expecting for, you may not have it now, but it’s on the way.” 

George Smith, co-anchor of 27 News, shared how hope comforted him through working in broadcasting in nine cities and losing the high-profile jobs on three separate occasions. But, always landing on his feet, better than before. 

“The low moments are part of the journey,” Smith said. “Always keep the faith. Always keep hope.” 

Dr. Ruben L. Anthony Jr., president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Madison, reflected on the need for healing the deep American divide across the country. 

“I hope for peace,” Anthony said. “I hope for democracy. I hope for justice. And, I hope that democracy wins out in 2020. And I really hope that our children have the opportunity to experience America in the way that we’ve had the opportunity to experience America. We have to uphold the legacy, the great legacy, of this country.” 

A highlight of Gospel Carols included a performance by students of color who were gifted violins of their very own through the GC Strings Program. MSO Music Director John DeMain surprised the fledgling musicians on stage with words of wisdom. 

“We would love to see more persons of color playing in orchestras all over the country,” DeMain said. “The trouble is that instrumentalist have to develop at a very young age. It’s not unusual to hear of a virtuoso violinist by the age of 14.  The main thing is to have good private training. Carve out some time every day to get to know that instrument. Practice and play in your school orchestra.”