Almost a decade ago, Tonya Taylor-Dorsey, a local musician and composer, enjoyed attending “A Soulful Christmas” concert at the Kimmel Center, sitting in the audience with her teenage son, Roderick. They made it a yearly mother-son date night.
“I’d be amazed by this concert,” she said. “They’d honor some great Gospel [singing] legend. Then they’d have all these choirs coming out. I never thought I’d be on that stage one day.”
Now, Roderick is 25, and Taylor-Dorsey will be on stage directing the Philadelphia Catholic Gospel Mass Choir at the sold-out 10th annual “A Soulful Christmas” concert on Tuesday, Dec. 12 at the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall.
This annual Christmas concert is the largest musical ecumenical event in the City of Philadelphia with many choirs, musicians, dancers, and homilists, representing different Christian denominations all working together to prepare for the celebration of Christmas and to promote Christian unity.
“We, as Catholics, have the chance to participate in something much bigger than us,” said Father Stephen Thorne, Chairperson of the Archbishop’s Commission on Racial Healing and Pastor of Saint Barbara Catholic Church in Philadelphia.
“We have a chance to bring our gifts as Catholics and as Black Catholics to the conversation,” he said. “It’s not simply music; it’s evangelization and an opportunity for us to proclaim the Good News.”
Established in 2014 in preparation for the World Meeting of Families—Philadelphia 2015 and the visit of Pope Francis, the Philadelphia Catholic Gospel Mass Choir is composed of 40 singers from approximately 25 different parishes in the Tri-State area.
The choir performs at various schools, churches, and nursing homes, and performs annually at “A Soulful Christmas” concert. They also opened AbbeyFest in Paoli last September, and they were featured in a Christmas concert last December broadcast on the Shalom World television network.
“We’re having fun as a choir praising God,” says Taylor-Dorsey. “It’s an awesome feeling to know that music we’re creating is touching someone’s heart. Music is definitely the universal language,” she said.
Father Thorne calls the choir “a true gift” to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. “Every time they minister in song, they do it with beautiful passion,” he said.
Father Thorne will be one of the homilists addressing the concert audience, and he will speak prior to the performance by the Philadelphia Catholic Gospel Mass Choir. He considers it a great honor to be participating in the concert for the third consecutive year as a spokesperson for the Archdiocese to the larger Christian community.
Father Thorne says the concert turns the Kimmel Center “into a church as people are clapping and praising God. It’s beautiful to see this concert hall turn into a house of worship.”
Creator and Director of “A Soulful Christmas,” Dr. J. Donald Dumpson, was “very intentional” says Father Thorne in making sure the Catholic Church was represented at the concert.
Of creating “A Soulful Christmas,” Dumpson, who celebrates 50 years in music ministry, says he hopes “the concert fosters a deeper knowing that God knows all about our struggles, and that God cares about our struggles.”
Dumpson says he wanted to create a concert that “reflected all of the textures of Black church worship.” He drew his inspiration for “A Soulful Christmas” from both the African Diaspora and from attending a sacred music concert conducted by Black musician James Frazier Jr. at the Academy of Music when he was a middle school student.
Father Thorne says the concert is a chance to reflect on the reason why Jesus came among us, “which was to save us from sin and to bring us all together as a family of God. That’s the purpose of Christmas.”
“All the toys and gifts are beautiful, but Jesus comes to give us hope,” he said.
For those unable to attend the concert, “A Soulful Christmas” will be broadcast on Christmas Eve on Praise Philly 107.9 HD2 from 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. and on Christmas Day on WURD 900 AM and 96.1 FM from 10 a.m. to 12 Noon.
This year’s concert will honor Carol Antrom, Gospel Singer/Songwriter, Church Musician, and Choir Director.
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