More than a year ago, the managing centre for retirement homes (Servior) and the music foundation EME partnered up to found the country’s biggest senior gospel choir.
On the prestigious Philharmonie stage, Margot opens the second number of the night with a solo--at the tender age of 92. For her it was quite natural that she joined the gospel as soon as she moved to the retirement home at the plateau du Rham in Luxembourg, as she told Delano on 30 October. Margot has acted on stage her entire life and with the gospel group, singing has become a new passion.
“Gospel and Friends” is a project that developed from the “Rhummer Gospel”, a small group of seniors from the Rham retirement home. Robert Bodja started the gospel group in 2013 and already in 2014, the seniors showcased their songs at the Blues & Jazz rallye.
One-and-a-half years ago, the success of their group led to a collaboration with EME foundation, a non-profit organisation that aims to bring music to those who normally wouldn’t have access. Suzette, called Suz, was part of the gospel choir from its very beginning, when there were only five members. She told Delano: “If back then I knew how it would develop, then I would have written the date down when we started.”
In total, seven retirement homes come together for “Gospel and Friends,” with seniors from all across the grand duchy. The finale of their gospel performances will be a concert at the Philharmonie on 7 November. Sarah Bergdoll, from the EME foundation, even told Delano that their collaboration with Servior would continue in the future even though no other concerts were planned yet.
Photo: Maison Moderne. The choir, comprised of people from retirement homes all over Luxembourg, is pictured rehearsing together at the Philharmonie on 30 October
Choirs, in particular church choirs, are well-established in Luxembourg. However, the gospel genre was something unfamiliar to many of the members before they joined the group.
“As a child, I was part of the church choir but we didn’t sing gospel, we didn’t know it. This is more fun, in the church choir we had to sing in Latin, that was less fun. It’s much more energetic, it should be played more in churches. That would create an entirely different atmosphere," Ali, one of the male singers, explained.
Besides the weekly gospel rehearsals, they even have English lessons to increase their understanding of the songs, which are all in English. Some of the members used to live in America, so for them it’s nothing new. But for some, like Ali, the meaning behind the words is attached to the rhythm of the songs. He said: “Sometimes there’s a word, and even if I left it under my pillow for one night, I just don’t remember it. And then (during rehearsals), once I’ve read the word, the song is over.”
Sophie, one of the representatives and members reckoned that the essence of gospel carried a lot of underlying meaning for the members.
“It’s choir music with many African influences and with the ‘call and response’ system. Robert Bodja is himself from Africa, he has a tight bond with this music genre. It transports a lot, it’s about joy in life and hope and I believe that people can identify really well with this. Even if our group is quite areligious,” she explained.
In her view, it is the laid-back character but at the same time the contagious energy that makes it so successful. Sophie also stressed that their key aim wasn’t to be professional: “We don’t want to be the best, but we certainly are the oddest (gospel group).”
And the goofiest, one might say. Two other singers, Bertha and José explained that the singing even continued off-stage. As both came from the same retirement home in Wiltz, they have a long way back home during which they can practice their repertoire.
Catch the Gospel concert
Catch Gospel and Friends when they perform at the Philharmonie on 7 November at 6pm.