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Twin Cities Community Gospel Choir to perform Thursday

The Historic Holmes Theatre is giving area singers the chance to perform on stage with the Twin Cities Community Gospel Choir and its well-known conductor, Robert Robinson, at its concert in Detroit Lakes this Thursday at 7:30 p.m.

But in addition to the chance to perform on stage, those who have signed up for the experience will also be learning to sing in a way that is most likely unfamiliar to them.

"We don't use scored music," said Robinson in a telephone interview Thursday. "We learn everything using the rote method."

What that means, Robinson explained, is that he or someone else familiar with the song to be performed will sing the first phrase, and the rest of the choir will mimic that phrase. Then they move on to the next phrase, and so on, until the choir has committed the entire song to memory.

Those who have signed up to sing with the TCC Gospel Choir will be asked to learn the songs they will be performing by the same method.

"They will have to really listen to what I'm doing, and learn to trust their ear," Robinson said, adding that this method also helps the singer to really internalize the message of the lyrics.

Rehearsal will be held from 3-5 p.m. the day of the show. Participants will learn African American contemporary and traditional gospel music.

"We do spirituals, hymns, traditional gospel, some gospel with hip hop and rap," Robinson said. "We also do some inspirational songs, which in my mind are songs that have a strong and powerful messages but are not really gospel tunes.

"We're more concerned about giving people the right message than anything else. We do a full program of different styles of gospel and inspirational singing."

What makes his ensemble unique, however, is that the songs they sing for each concert are often determined on the spot, according to each audience's preference.

"I come in with a list of songs (to perform), but it's never etched in stone," Robinson said. "I try to be sensitive to the audience... if they lean more toward enjoying the spirituals, we'll do more spirituals. If they lean more toward the contemporary, we'll do more of that.

"It keeps everybody on their toes," he added. "Basically, we adapt to the environment."

The full Twin Cities Community Gospel Choir currently numbers about 125 singers, and Robinson also works with a smaller ensemble of about 24 singers. But the group he will be traveling with to Detroit Lakes is a bit smaller.

"There will be about 11 singers, a three-piece band and myself," he said. Though Robinson has toured with other musicians in the past, including Lorie Line, this will be his first visit to Detroit Lakes.

"I am excited," he said. "We're really looking forward to meeting some of the people in the community."

Community, after all, is what the TCC Gospel Choir is all about. This community-based, multicultural group first formed as part of an adult education program that met nightly at the Minneapolis Community & Technical College.

"We really just kind of wanted to give people who had never sung gospel music before an avenue to learn the music and the history of the music and to experience the performance side of gospel," Robinson said. "I didn't think that I would end up with very many folks (signed up), because I didn't think anybody was interested -- but I was wrong. I had 35 people show up at the first rehearsal, and within six months we had over 100 people signed up to be a part of the choir."

Currently, the group numbers about 125 people. Though they do usually get a couple of months off from rehearsals in the summer, Robinson said, their performance schedule sometimes dictates exactly when that vacation will occur.

"Sometimes we have a lot of concerts in June and July," he explained.

The ensemble meets weekly for rehearsals, the full choir every other week -- though the number of rehearsals is increased leading up to a live performance, Robinson added.

Robinson launched his career at the age of six as lead vocalist with his family, the Robinson Children. Since then, the Twin Cities' "Pavarotti of Gospel" has performed with such greats as Vanessa Bell Armstrong, Jermaine Jackson, Prince, Aretha Franklin, Mattie Moss Clark and the Clark Sisters, the Steele Family and the Sounds of Blackness. He also toured as a soloist with pianist Lorie Line.

Tickets for Thursday's show are $18 for adults, $9 for students, and can be purchased at the box office, by phone or online at

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454