Editor's Note: Organizers of "A Joyful Noise: Gospel Brunch," previewed below, announced Saturday that the event scheduled to take place next Sunday, March 22, has been cancelled due to the coronavirus. This story was written in advance of when that decision was made.
Concerts are usually all about the performers; the stars of the show. But with A Joyful Noise, it’s the audience members who shine.
“We don’t really like the attention to be on us because it’s not about us,” said singer Jayda Chance, 14.
“It’s about the community. Our mission is to help others and to better the community . . . We’re like the beacon of hope.”
Chance, who is a Schenectady resident, has been a member of the group from its formation two years ago. Led by Saratoga Springs musician Garland Nelson, A Joyful Noise: Capital Region Spirit Choir combines gospel music with pop and others; with the intent that audience members can sing and dance along with the musicians on stage.
So far, the group has performed monthly shows at Caffe Lena as well as at churches across the region. A Joyful Noise is also slated to perform at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center during the Freihofer’s Jazz Festival in June.
“The only thing we really need to do is make it about everyone else. Everyone in an excited utterance, raising a joyful noise,” Nelson said.
The idea was started by Joel Moss, a multi-Grammy Award-winning producer who lives in Saratoga Springs and has spent many years working in the gospel music genre.
“The original programming at Caffe Lena back in the ‘60s involved a lot of gospel music. Lena loved gospel music . . . and over the years it sort of just disappeared. I thought it was time to bring it back,” Moss said.
To bring it back, he first thought of Nelson, who Moss refers to as a force of nature. It turned out that Nelson and fellow musician Azzaam Hameed had previously talked about starting a spirit choir, mixing gospel music with pop and rock to bring the community together and lift one another up
“The power of music regardless of where you stand ideologically or spiritually has always been a unifier,” Nelson said. “What the Joyful Noise thing is [is] not a gospel straight Christian-based unit. [It’s] a spirit choir that pulls from different religions and denominations as well as secular things that can be retooled [into] spiritual things,” Nelson said.
Thus, they brought on professional musicians like Elizabeth Woodbury Kasius, Annette Harris, Chris Dollard, Georgia Jones and Roosevelt Baker. Chance joined the group as a featured guest during its first performance at Caffe Lena. She sang “I Have My Father’s Eyes,” an original song co-written by Moss.
“The first time I heard Jayda sing I imagined that she would be a perfect singer for it so once we got Joyful Noise up and running Azzaam and I spent some time with Jayda and taught her the song. She’s sung it about half a dozen times [since] and it leaves you with goosebumps for about a week,” Moss said.
“As soon as she opened her mouth, this young girl, it just [leveled] the room,” Nelson said.
Chance has been singing since she was two years old. When she was 4 she had her first solo performance at New Bethel Community Church in Schenectady, where she sings in the choir.
“She used to watch ‘VeggieTales’ and she’d sing with [it] but she’d sing with such gusto and vibrato. . . But I’ve seen her voice mature and her styles mature. It started out with gospel and then it was gospel and jazz. Then it was a little R&B. So watching her evolve into different genres and now creating her own style is really amazing,” said Tracey Chance, Jayda’s mom.
Chance has performed at the Apollo Theater, at McDonalds Gospelfest at the Prudential Center in New Jersey and in South Korea with gospel artist Hezekiah Walker. She’s also been in local Park Playhouse productions and in recent years she's started to write original music.
The strength and steadiness of her voice are remarkable; she could probably get a standing ovation for singing just about anything. But what Nelson and the rest of the crew see in her is not only her voice but her perspective and her desire to use her gift to lift others; which is what A Joyful Noise is all about.
During the shows, Nelson, Chance and the other musicians are constantly engaging with the audience, whether they're clapping, dancing or singing together.
“You can sense the unity of spirit, which is so vitally needed . . . in today’s time. There [is] not any hidden agenda other than we’re all here to experience a positive vibe and to be uplifted as a result of that,” Hameed said.
With the Caffe Lena gospel brunches, the Caffe provides programs with the song lyrics so people can sing along and Hattie’s Restaurant supplies the food. In between songs like “I Know I've Been Changed” and “What if God Was One of Us?” Nelson usually shares a thought of the day, based on current events or what’s been on the group’s mind.
“It’s just unlike anything else that we do here,” said Carolyn Shapiro, the marketing manager for Caffe Lena.
“There’s times when everyone’s holding hands, there’s times when everyone is standing up and singing and clapping and dancing around. It’s very collaborative and it’s meant for people of all kinds just to come together on a Sunday afternoon and really revel in a beautiful music-loving community.”
However, some days it's easier than others to emanate that joy.
At a recent show at the Unity Church in Albany, the group had audio and feedback issues.
“I was distracted by the technical issues we were having. ... I was so pulled out of what was happening in the spirit that I was not necessarily listening to the spirit anymore,” Nelson said.
Then Harris’ microphone cut out during the middle of a solo and instead of panicking, she started the song over and Hameed joined her on the acoustic piano.
“The spirit that that particular group of people brought was one that helped us out more so than normal because we had some technical challenges. Their vibe supported us in a way that we didn’t focus on the challenges,” Hameed said.
Support for the group seems to be growing, and with its upcoming concert at SPAC during the Jazz Festival, Joyful Noise has the potential to reach hundreds more.
“Most of the jazz festivals around the world have a gospel tent. . . Saratoga Jazz Festival does not have a gospel element. So I tried last year and it didn’t work out and this year we are going to be the featured artist on [Sunday] morning at Jazz Fest. We will be the only act performing during that time so the potential of having thousands of people come and hear the group is very high,” Moss said.
To Moss, the world could use more of what gospel music supplies.
“I’ve spent. . . my life very connected to the spiritual nature of what that music does. The inspirational part of that is what Joyful Noise is all about. It’s about making an opportunity and bringing people together in a space where all of their differences disappear for the amount of time that they’re there and they all feel the same thing through music. It’s very important, especially now,” Moss said.
In the coming months, the group will be getting ready for the big performance, and Nelson and some of the other members are already looking into expanding the spirit choir even further.
“We’re starting to think bigger. Do we get it on the road? Which we’re looking into. Do we put together a CD project? We’ve given some thought to [that]. . . This is just the beginning,” Nelson said.