Black gospel music goes 'Dutch' in Scotlandville

Black gospel music goes 'Dutch' in Scotlandville

. - Baton Rouge may never have seen a concert like the one that took place at Greater Mount Carmel Baptist Church on Sora Street.

The church was holding a health fair with a last-minute addition to the event. A choir from The Netherlands was added to perform in the church's sanctuary. 

Loneka Wilkinson-Battiste is active in the church. She says the choir asked for an audience.

"Their previous plans had been canceled, so they were looking for a place to perform," said Wilkinson-Battiste. "They were here, they were ready to sing. We knew that the health fair was going on here, and we talked to the coordinators of the health fair and with the administration of the church. They were very gracious in reorganizing things to accommodate the choir."

Choir director Edith Castelyn says her 90-voice group is actually a combination of willing singers from four different choirs she conducts back home in Holland. All four choirs sing American black gospel music. 

You see, in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and other parts of Holland, black gospel music is popular and exotic. Members who cannot speak English learn the meanings of the words and sing with a gusto that shows they understand the song's message.

Ms. Castelyn is an interesting person in that she worked for the U.S. Air Force for 40 years as a contractor, civilian employee conducting the Air Force's gospel choirs. When she returned home to The Netherlands, she could not resist setting up new choirs to enjoy the music.

"They realize what they are singing," said Castelyn. "They are not singing for us, they are grateful to the Lord that we can sing together."
The director says choir members do not have to convert to Christianity to sing, but she finds that many who join for the music, also learn to love the religion part of it.

As the choir belts out song after song and the sanctuary rocks with clapping and shouts of praise, the 90 members look out on an audience of about 30. They say it doesn't matter. When people clearly enjoy the music (and they did), God hears it too and is pleased.

Wilkinson-Battiste says their excitement and lovely harmonies were a rich pleasure for all to hear.

"It's always difficult to sing in another language and to sing in a culture that you didn't grow up in," said Wilkinson-Battiste. "They just knocked it out of the park!"

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