Written and Photographed by Doreen Dawkins
I arrived at the Faith Ministries Church a few minutes early. I have been attending gospel concerts for over 30 years in the Columbus, Ohio area. This was my first time attending a Raise Productions concert. It seems odd because the choir has been in existence for about 33 years.
Sidebar: The excitement and the fun the group members were having during this song was contagious. I almost forgot that I was there to take pictures…
Sidebar: During the early part of the concert, I concentrated on making sure I stayed out of the video team members way and taking pictures. I started really listening to the choir on a cappella song, “Were you there”. The harmony was amazing!
Sidebar: A few of the lyrics of this song are “He could have chose another way to show he loved us, He could have chose another way to show He cared, yet he chose to die on Calvary. Just to think that he did it all for me”. I could have listened to this song for about 15 minutes more. Enough said.
Raise Productions has been around for a while. Tell me what is going on.
We started in 1985. It has been 34 years since Raise has been in existence. We are still moving. Initially, we started with the school and teaching private lessons in a house on 22nd Street. Then, we moved to the King Arts Complex and were there several years. Then, we moved to our own facility on Cleveland Ave. We taught classes in the arts. We had a vision to develop an accredited program. We had 5 or 6 teachers at that point. Most of the teachers went back to school to start getting their master’s Degree or additional degrees to be able to teach. I went back to school and got my Master’s and doctorate and started teaching at Ohio State, and at Dennison and now I’m teaching at Indiana University. We still have the publishing company. It still provides music for choirs and people all over the world. Brother Frank Lane runs Raise in Columbus. I promote Raise from Indiana and all over the world. The choir is still together and still sings. The choir is 33 years old and still has some of the original members.
A Raise Resurrection is an Easter concert which celebrates the story of Christ from Palm Sunday through the resurrection with anthems, spirituals, gospel songs, narratives, scriptures etc.
We don’t sing as often because I am all over the place. When we come together, it is always a blessed time. It is a reminder of how pleasant it is for brethren to come together in unity, to sing and experience the power of God.
Any projects coming soon?
We have been working on a project for a little while. We just haven’t been able to get it finished. The project is called, “Still Raising Gospel Music Higher.” On our first concert and album over 30 years ago we had a song called “Raising Gospel Music Higher”. That was our motto for Raise. We have beautiful music that the Lord has given us. We are just waiting to get it out.
Do you write most of the songs the group performs? Toot your own horn for a minute.
I have been composing since I was 9. I have written over 600 compositions. With Raise choir, I write all the music. That is primarily because the Lord has gifted me as a composer. They are a group that we developed to be able to share the music that God gave to me.
Tell me more about the progression of Raise.
We started teaching lessons in a house, but always had a vision to have an accredited school. Having come through traditional classical training in undergraduate school, I realized that gospel music did not mix with classical music and it was not welcome in the academy. That burned in me a vision that people need to learn how to do gospel music in an academic setting and not be made to feel that gospel music is inferior. When we started the community arts school, we were trying to develop the courses and curriculum to teach people to do what we do in African American churches through gospel music. We were blessed to do that, then the Lord called us to a higher platform where He gave us the arena. We were able to take our programming into academic settings and now we literally teach in college and universities all over the world. A lot of choirs perform this music all over the world. If you search for Raymond Wise on www.youtube.com, there are over 400 pieces posted. Not even one did I post. There are choirs from all over the world performing this music. The Lord is blessing this ministry to be a worldwide ministry in terms of the curriculum, music, products and sheet music.
What should I have asked that I didn’t ask that you are dying to tell me?
We are blessed to have been here for this many years, the longevity that the Lord has given us but there is still more. While we are expanding, the Lord is opening new doors in other arenas. There is still that vision to be able to train and help musicians in non-academic as well as church settings to learn how to do this music in a wonderful way. We still have a vision that one day there will be a center for the gospel arts where people can come from all over the world to do this music.
How do we contact you?
All our products and contact information are on www.raiseonline.com. We don’t sing as often, but we still do sing. If people want us to do specific things, we just need to know in advance. We do clinics, workshops, etc.
How long have you been a member and why do you participate?
I have been a member since I was 19 years old. It has impacted my life by helping to enlighten me to pray for people and lay my hands-on people while I am giving them a massage. I am a professional massage therapist. It has taken me out of a dark place in my life. About 30 years ago, I considered committing suicide. The music and the words to the music lifted me up from that dark place and encouraged me to go forward.
The group is unique in that we sing 6-part harmony. By that I mean first soprano, second soprano, first alto, second alto, first tenor, second tenor, and bass. Usually you don’t find that in groups from Columbus Ohio. You get soprano, alto, tenor. Half of the tenors are baritones and they are screaming their part. Screaming impacts your voices.
We also sing in different languages. We sing in German which is wild to me. It is a gift that Raymond has given us to be able to interpret gospel music in German.
Years ago, we had the opportunity to sing at a Jewish synagogue with a choir from Renalt Israel. They had a piece of our music, we had a piece of their music. When we came together as family, it was phenomenal. We were so much on one accord that both groups wore royal blue without planning it. We have been exposed to many arenas that most African American choirs do not get the opportunity to be exposed to.
Why do you sing in Raise?
The impact of his music. His music is all scripturally based. I love the arrangements of his music. You don’t find his music being played over and over on the radio. It is a totally different style. One person said they don’t know whether to clap or sit and listen.
The group exposes my vocal range.
Are you trying to tell me you can “blow”?
I won’t say that. Someone else might say that, but I won’t.
What part do you sing?
Second soprano. My vocal range has changed. I used to sing first soprano.
If you are singing with Dr. Raymond Wise , we know you are hitting the correct notes.
His second soprano is most choirs first soprano range. Raymond writes very high, but he gives you the training and breathing techniques, etc. We warm up properly all the time before we sing. We don’t stress that in the black choirs. We just sung 10 songs and I am not hoarse. In other choirs, I would have been hoarse by the fourth song. With this group he demands excellence and unity, the musicians are not out playing one another, The musicians want to hear what we are singing.
My take: I completed the group piano lessons offered at the school in the mid-1990s. I knew Dr. Raymond Wise was a talented musician and singer prior to attending the concert. I didn’t know what to expect. This concert told the story of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Scriptures were not only read by narrators but displayed visually on screens in the front of the sanctuary. A few of the members gave their testimony of how the group and/or songs has impacted their lives over the years. This was a concert that was more than singing and playing instruments in excellence. It was ministry in excellence. “Just to think that He did it all for me” …. Enough said.