Let Heaven and Nature Swing – Gospel Musical Unites Community

Feb 22, 2003 03:31 PM EST

SOUTHSIDE, Ala. – More than 1,800 visitors from the Southside community gathered at the local Baptist Church in the gospel musical event. More than 40 singers and 24 instrumentalists performed the musical, “Let Heaven and Nature Swing,” written by Don Marsh, in this otherwise quiet town.

Jeff Stith, director of “Let Heaven and Nature Swing” noted that the musical provided more than just entertainment – it provided a way for community members across generations and backgrounds to unite under one roof.

"You have to convince your congregation that there are new ways to attract people without crossing the lines," said Stith, pointing out the multi-generations who attended the church's performances. "If you do something very contemporary, you're going to reach younger people. The good thing about this musical is that you reach across all generational lines -- and that's the best type of musical."

"There are a lot of people who will come to a swing concert who might not come to church otherwise," Stith said. "I believe God's going to honor the message if the person's there."

It also provides opportunities to build relationships with the performing instrumentalists, remarked Stith; Instrumentalists who otherwise wouldn’t come to church came to play in the orchestra.

"I play trumpet with a local big band called the 'Kings of Swing,' so it was just natural to supplement our orchestra with players from the Kings," said Greg Kelsoe, orchestra minister at Southside. "One of the organizers of the Kings is an old-time big bandsman who is also leader of the local community college show band. He thought the music was some of the best-written music he had ever seen."

Don Schlosser, editor in chief of music for producing the Musical noted the characteristics of the “swing style.”

"Swing is big in today's culture because it represents a nostalgic era -- the war years," said Schlosser. "It holds fond memories of fun times for people from that generation, and it's a fun, upbeat style that's associated with fun and energetic dancing and live bands."

Swing also allows church music to connect both personally and emotionally with the congregation, continued Schlosser.

"It embodies a feel not found in any of the standard hymnody of the church, and it's even different from the steady diet of praise and worship music," he noted. "It's fresh and it's fun. It's a little bit risky and daring, too, because we feel like swing music may be a little worldly and indulgent, like we used to feel about drums and rock music."

Because the musical was originally designed for young adults, its fast-paced rhythm drew concern from Southside’s adult choir.

"As a director, I had to jump in with both feet, be very positive, and convince the choir members that we were going to do this," Stith recounted.

However, soon after the choir members rehearsed a few times, a majority of them became enthusiastic and supportive. Some of the men even rented war-uniforms and costumes for the actual presentations, said Stith.

PowerPoint presentations of black and white photos of the military, old cars and band members from the 1930s and 1940s flashed throughout the performance, providing multi-media effects.

A second project, “Swing the Wondrous Story,” has gone underway following the success of its prequel.

By Paulina C.