The Olive Branch of Music

By: Jarrod Aldom
By: Jarrod Aldom

French and American relations are not exactly at an all-time high. But WHSV found a group that’s trying to bridge that cultural gap through song.

The Al Hamilton Community Choir has put on concerts all across Virginia. But this concert was for themselves, and the opportunity to participate in a cultural exchange program with gospel groups in France. Louisa Dixon, a former Staunton resident who has lived the last 20 years in France, coordinated the event.

"I was invited to a gospel concert one day," explains Dixon, the coordinator of Franche-Comte Virginie. "After the concert, I met some of the singers and the choir director. And they were interested in learning more from real American gospel singers.

In July, 61 members of gospel choirs in the Staunton area will be making the trip to a region in eastern France as part of the French-American Gospel Music Workshop Exchange.

"I think it is a fantastic opportunity," says Dixon. "Number one to show our wonderful local talent to the French. Also getting to know French citizens. Our people will be living in the homes with French people learning about the way of life in France."

"We're representing Staunton Virginia and we're doing it through gospel music," says Larry Vickers, Facility Coordinator for Booker T. Washington Community Center. "And being that music is one of the most wonderful way that you can express yourself, there is no language barrier."

In July of 2005, 170 members of gospel choirs in France will be coming to Staunton to complete the exchange. Organizers hope it's the first step to a better understanding of both cultures.

Most of the group's expenses will be taken care of by their French hosts. But the members will still have to come up with $1,300 each to make the trip, thus the benefit concert.

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