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Bishops and spouses choir sings in harmony for New Orleans

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[Episcopal News Service] Christ Church Cathedral in New Orleans was a little stuffy and pouring rain made a low din on the roof as members of the House of Bishops and Spouses Choir gathered September 23 to record tracks for a new compact disc.

The choir recorded its singing at the House of Bishops opening Eucharist September 20 and will also record during its March 2008 meeting at the Camp Allen Retreat and Conference Center, outside Houston, Texas. The hope is to have the CD available for sale before Christmas 2008.

Proceeds from the sale will go to help the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana's efforts to rebuild the Central City area of New Orleans.

Central City has been the scene of a numerous killings this year, according to the Times-Picayune newspaper. Located between the Garden District, home to some of the south's most celebrated antebellum real estate, and the city's Central Business District, Central City was plagued with concentrated poverty and blight even before Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans.

The recording is being made in memory of Northern Michigan Bishop Jim Kelsey who died in June 3 in a car accident as he was returning from a parish visit. Kelsey was a "faithful member" of the choir the entire time he was a bishop, New York Bishop Suffragan Catherine Roskam said, adding he would approve of the choirs' desire to help the "poorest of the poor" in New Orleans.

The choir cut its first compact disc, "With One Accord," as a fund-raiser for Episcopal Relief and Development (ERD). It is available from Episcopal Books and Resources here.

As the recording session began, Jarrett Follette, cathedral director of music and organist, decided the air conditioning created a bit too much ambient noise and needed to be turned off. No one -- not even the bishops present -- could do anything about the rain.

The choir's recording efforts did get the help of Dent Davidson, House of Bishops choir director; Jeannine Otis, director of music at St. Mark's Church-in-the-Bowery in New York; and Fortunata Jefferson, a parishioner at Grace Episcopal Church in New Orleans.

The 15 members present at the cathedral sang their way through six songs, including "I don't want no trouble at the river," "Cert'nly Lord," "There's a longing in our hearts," "We lay our broken world," "I've been 'buked," and "We've come this far by faith."

Each song required a few takes, and there were tweaks and good-natured ribbing along the way.

During an otherwise good take of "We lay our broken world," Roskam detected a flaw in the last verse and asked that the choir re-record the verse so that it could be edited in later. She and Davidson bantered and debated, he suggesting that the verse had been fine.

"People all over the church will hear us; let's get it right," Roskam said.

"Oh, the House of Bishops doesn't always get it right," someone piped up and the choir broke into laughter.

The choir began about 10 years ago, according to Roskam, and now has about 30 members.

"We thought it would be a service to the church to see bishops singing together in harmony," she said.

The choirs have also created a community with the House of Bishops. Roskam recalled one member looking at the choir a few years ago and remarking, "I don't vote with any of these people, but here we are singing harmony together."

That, she added, is why the choirs formed.

"We're singing God's song and we should be able to do that, no matter our differences," she said.

-- The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is national correspondent for the Episcopal News Service.

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