Hope Chapel Ministries
Dressed in long black robes, a group of approximately 40 people hold hands in a circle at the base of the pulpit inside the sweeping sanctuary of Hope Chapel Ministries in Northwest Jacksonville. With eyes closed and voices raised, the church’s mass choir sways, belting-out a lively chorus.
“I will sing halleluiah, oh Lord,” they sing, filling the room with thunderous, emotional vocal vibrations.
One of the featured singers, a tall thin man, speaks out above the group, praising God, while the others hum and echo his rhythmic address.
“Thank you, Jesus,” they sing. “Amen!”
And this is just the opening prayer for choir practice.
Hope Chapel Ministries Mass Choir, which celebrates 30 years of music-making this year, has recorded 12 albums and travels across the Southeast rocking congregations and concert halls. The ensemble, with members ranging in age from 35 to 84, sings spiritual messages of perseverance and hope, and hosts a free Christmas concert at their church in December.
Carla Jenkins, an original choir member and current choir president, manages the assessment center at Florida State College during the week. Come Sunday, however, she and her fellow “music ministers” get busy creating a joyful noise.
“There’s nothing like seeing someone when you are singing and knowing you are touching them right then and there,” Jenkins says, wearing a black choir robe with a red sash. “You may have someone on that last leg, and life has really beat them down. Sometimes what we sing will soften the heart.”
Hope Chapel Ministries, a nondenominational church, started softening hearts in the early 70s when founder Jeannette Holmes Vann gathered seven people in her basement to share her Christian faith. Today, more than 500 people turn to Holmes Vann for worship and inspiration.
Energized by the lyrics they sing, the group bobs to an up-tempo number, urging listeners to “trust God.” The choir members raise their hands toward the ceiling as their voices meld into raw emotional power that rushes through the sanctuary.
“You’ve got to be strong,” they sing. “Don’t give up. Be strong. The sun is just about to shine.”
Island Chamber Singers
About 30 miles northeast of Hope Chapel Ministries, tucked off of Florida A1A in a low-slung business complex, another group of singers sits in an open hall wearing tuxedos and sparkling tops and holding music books. Only a wooden cross adorns the bare walls of the space, where the ensemble makes final adjustments to dramatic moments of a holiday program.
“Look up and let me have your eyes,” says Jane Lindberg, founder and director of the Island Chamber Singers, a choral performance group based in Yulee.
Lindberg, a petite sandy-haired woman, pauses with both hands suspended in the air and imparts wisdom to the group of 43 men and women aiming to perfect “Magnificat,” a classical work by British composer John Rutter.
“I want a nice, strong note. One, two, three. One, two,” she says, slicing her fingers through the air to signal the start of the piece, which depicts the Virgin Mary through imagery of a rose.
The choir reacts with measured, deliberate notes that build into a swell of vocal harmonies.
Since 2004, the Island Chamber Singers have performed concerts around Amelia Island. This year’s Christmas concert, held in November, features compositions by Rutter including “Requiem” and rearranged carols like “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” Throughout December, Lindberg’s 40-member female troupe, the Songspinners, will also glitter on local stages for fans of sacred music.
The Island Chamber Singers and the Songspinners rehearse out of New Vision Congregational Church, where Lindberg serves as music director. Lindberg, who taught music history at Jacksonville University for six years, has carved out a refined spiritual niche for both of her performance groups on the First Coast.
“Usually when you have a classical concert, no one shows up,” she says with a laugh, wearing a silver G-clef pendant.
But last year, more than 400 people came to hear holiday hymns sung by the Island Chamber Singers, which includes members with global singing experience.
During a recent practice Lindberg conducts the chorus, her hair shaking in time with the movements of her arms, and an angelic tone fills the room.
“Of a rose,” the choir sings. “A lovely rose.”