Vocal ensemble recording a reminder of God’s presence even in a pandemic

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The Promise, Avondale's vocal ensemble.

Songs recorded by an Avondale ensemble before the coronavirus but launched as an album tomorrow (November 21) are now a reminder of God’s presence in the pandemic.

The Promise’s It Is Well begins with the traditional African American spiritual “Kumbaya”, a call for God to “come by here”. Two arrangements of the hymn “It Is Well With My Soul”, written by lawyer and Presbyterian church elder Horatio Spafford after a family tragedy, form the album’s thematic core. The arrangements were gifted to The Promise by friends of the ensemble. Vocalist Sandra Entermann commissioned Naomi Crellin from Australian ensemble The Idea of North to arrange the first and music academic Associate Professor Andrew Legg, who began his gospel career supporting Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder, arranged the second.

Other songs on the album include the hymn standard “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus”, Ralph Carmichael’s soothing “A Quiet Place” and “As the Deer”, which Martin Nystrom wrote during a period of fasting. Also on the album: “I Will Lay Me Down In Peace”. Artistic director Aleta King found the score handwritten on brittle paper in the Avondale Conservatorium library. She and The Promise dedicate the song to Peter Duncan, who funds the Duncan–Kranz Choral Scholarship. The dedication is in memory of Peter’s wife, Valerie, who died this past year. The Promise performed at her funeral. “It seems Val was a true aesthete,” says King. “Whatever she turned her artistic eye to, she made beautiful.”

Ms King, the director of the conservatorium, prepared the liner notes for It Is Well during the imposition of public health order rules to slow the spread of the virus. “As I write, singing in public is illegal and potentially deadly,” reads her introductory message. “Singing? Who could object to singing? It reveals our deepest emotions, echoes our faith, and builds bonds between people.” She ends by expressing hope songs on the album “encourage you to look forward to singing together again”.

Being deprived of that opportunity “is even harder for people who use singing as a way to communicate with others. It’s like taking away an essential part of who you are.” A performance, then, to launch It Is Well tomorrow will be “a healing moment for The Promise and perhaps for those who watch it”.

While the public health order rules are relaxing, restrictions on choral singing and gathering remain. So, the launch will be live streamed from Avondale College Seventh-day Adventist Church—the venue served as the recording location for the album. To maintain social distance on stage, the ensemble will perform grouped as two quintets. “You’ve got to concentrate a lot harder because you can’t communicate or hear as well,” says alto Emily Shield. She is pleased, though, for the opportunity to perform. “We’re finally able to share what we’ve been working on.”

Returning for the launch is former senior member and bass Oliver Doyle, who graduated this past year. He’s an arranger of two songs, including Louis Bourgeois’ “Doxology”, when closes the album, and performs a vocal and a trumpet solo on two others.

With credits as an arranger and piano and acoustic bass player on five of the 10 songs, Avondale Jazz Ensemble Director David Pudney features again on a Promise album. “He brings a steady and strong foundation,” says King, “kind of like his character.” Avondale Jazz Ensemble will provide support for the launch.

It Is Well is The Promise’s sixth album. It follows The Promise Songbook, which featured a first commissioning and six original compositions, Jesus: HIStory, a recording with Avondale Jazz Ensemble of Pudney’s original compositions that reimagine the stories of the Gospels, Give Thanks, Faithful and a self-titled debut recorded in 2006.

Celebrate the live stream launch of It Is Well featuring vocal ensemble The Promise (with support from Avondale Jazz Ensemble) on Facebook and YouTube. It Is Well is available from all digital music stores.