Local choir to be featured in #8216;Honeydripper#039;

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 28, 2006

The faithful gather at a small-town church much as their ancestors would have done a century or more ago. Still, times have changed.

Air conditioning eliminates the need for hand fans in the muggy south Alabama weather. The pews are padded these days.

Microphones now amplify the choir members, who sing along to electrified instruments.

However, voices still rise with passion, exuberance and conviction. And the tunes they sing are reminiscent of the struggles those that came before them faced, struggles still faced.

The words speak of a strong faith that helped them through tough times, and through life’s many temptations. Their song reminds us, &uot;You got to choose between the world and the Lord.&uot;

Far behind church walls

Eight members of a local congregation will be a spirited part of famed indie director John Sayles’ latest film, &uot;Honeydripper.&uot; They will be sharing their vocal harmonies with an audience far beyond the walls of their church, New Beginnings Ministries on Government Street in Greenville.

Clara Waters, Rose Womack, Mary Peterson, LaTonya Ingram, Tiffany Riley, Jesse Marsh, Jonathan Longmire and Harold Daniels, pastor of the church, will make up the gospel choir featured in &uot;Honeydripper.&uot;

Charlie Kennedy, well-known local musician and music teacher, is working with the choir as musical liaison while they rehearse for their performance.

The eight will perform as a gospel choir at an old-fashioned tent revival in the film, which is set in rural Alabama in 1950.

Other members of the church’s regular choir and its congregation will serve as members of the revival audience. Brian Williams, a member of the choir and a casting intern department for the film, will play the part of &uot;Luther.&uot; Williams, who regularly plays guitar for the choir, is helping Kennedy out with the rehearsal process.

A wealth of talent and spirit

It wasn’t easy finding a choir to use in the film. That wasn’t due to a lack of local talent, however, Kennedy said.

&uot;Some of the film people and I visited several churches – city churches, country churches – and listened to their choirs. There are a lot of good choirs in this county, several good enough to be in this movie,&uot; the musician stressed.

There was a great deal to consider beyond good voices, Kennedy discovered.

&uot;They not only had to be musically capable, they had to have the right mix of men and women, the right ages, personal appearances that could be adapted to the early 1950s. There was a lot to consider.&uot;

With a choir of 25 talented members, New Beginnings was the one providing that &uot;right mix.&uot;

&uot;It was large enough to allow us to eliminate some people because of, say, young guys with shaved heads, ladies with colored hair; things that wouldn’t fit into that period in history,&uot; Kennedy explained.

&uot;John wanted exactly five women and three men for the film’s choir and New Beginnings offered us that. It gave us the visual and age aspects we needed,&uot; Kennedy explained.

As for the spirit needed for this performance, &uot;They’ve got that sure enough. In fact, all the city and country churches had the spirit,&uot; Kennedy said with a smile.

Sayles and producer Maggie Renzi were &uot;blown away&uot; when they visited New Beginnings to hear the choir recently, Kennedy said.

&uot;John and Maggie absolutely loved what they heard, they were really knocked out by these folks.&uot;

Tent revival blues

While the choir members are rehearsing with electric guitar and drums as they perfect the two songs, &uot;You Got to Choose&uot; and &uot;Mama Left Me Standing by the Highway,&uot; they will be performing a capella for the film.

&uot;Remember, this is a tent revival back in 1950. They will be filming this back off the highway way out in the county and using kerosene lanterns to light the tent. There isn’t going to be a place to plug in a piano or a guitar,&uot; Kennedy explained to the choir during last Wednesday’s rehearsal.

Williams helped his fellow choir members with getting the right beat and phrasing on the film’s original tune, &uot;You Got to Choose,&uot; co-written by Sayles and the film’s award-winning musical director, Mason Daring, composer for all Sayles’ films.

&uot;Y’all are sounding a little bit too country on some of this. I want you to sing it like you would normally say it, alright?&uot; Williams said as the members paused in rehearsal of &uot;You Got to Choose.’

&uot;We need to make it kind of bluesy, folks. Just remember, the blues came out of gospel,&uot; Kennedy added.

Along with the original composition, Kennedy said the choir will be performing &uot;Mother Left Me Standing by the Highway,&uot; a gospel classic recorded in 1950 by two of gospel’s most acclaimed groups, the Dixie Hummingbirds and the Angelic Gospel Singers.

&uot;These are two great songs and a great group of people to sing them. I am just trying to translate for the choir what Mason as the musical director has envisioned for the film,&uot; Kennedy said.

&uot;We’ve got work to do, but they are really coming along. When they first heard these songs for the movie, they caught on right quickly.&uot;

As the rehearsal continued last Wednesday, the choir members grew more animated. Eyebrows danced, heads nodded and fists moved in time to the music as they &uot;kicked it along.&uot;

&uot;Should we clap to the music?&uot; Longmire asked.

&uot;Do what comes naturally to you,&uot; Kennedy replied.

&uot;John said clappin,’ shoutin’ and testifyin,’ are all just fine.&uot;

The New Beginnings Ministries choir members are slated to film their &uot;Honeydripper&uot; performance in a rural Butler County location next Friday night, October 27.