Let the four winds blow

Musicians and vocalists team for unique concert recording
By luke eggleston / SUN staff writer

As an international language, music can weave together disparate cultures from all parts of the earth.

“Music doesn’t have any boundaries,” said Hank Leo, director of the YMCA of the Greater Tri-Valley. “It’s a team concept and an individual concept. It can be found in every corner of the world. Music is a common language and it brings people together.”

Saturday, Oct. 13 a passion for music drew together the Harlem Boys and Girls Choir Alumni Ensemble and the YMCA of the Greater Tri-Valley’s award-winning Wind and Jazz Ensemble in Rome, N.Y.

“The event went very well,” said Leo, who added that roughly 800 people attended the event. “We were very happy with the outcome.…It was a tremendous event. We’ve received dozens of e-mails and phone calls congratulating us on its success.”

The program is the brainchild of Scott Rutledge, who founded the YMCA Center for the Creative Arts [YCCA] in 2003.

“I can’t really describe it. The presence of the Holy Spirit was so present,” said Rutledge. “This choir had people standing in the aisles praising Jesus. It was awesome. The recordings are absolutely stunning. It was the best work my kids have ever done. The concert was the most powerful feeling I’ve ever had of the Lord being praised.”

The event was the latest in a series of recording collaborations in which the ensemble has participated. During the day, the ensemble and the choir recorded. The evening concert was also recorded and PBS filmed the event as part of a documentary on the choir.

A native of Rome, N.Y., and a 1980 graduate of the Crane School of Music in Rochester, Rutledge is the director of music at St. Joseph’s Church in Lee Center, a small town near Utica. Previously, he performed as a trumpeter and vocalist on a Norwegian cruise line. He has performed with such artists as Maynard Ferguson, Gap Mangione, Rare Earth, K.C. and the Sunshine Band, Eddie Money and Earth, Wind and Fire. He also taught music at St. Peter’s in Rome.

Rutledge believes his work with the YCCA is inspired by faith. Rutledge noted that the YMCA’s extensive Christian tradition enables him and his students to express that faith.

“I’m not limited here,” Rutledge said. “Jesus makes his way into the Wind Ensemble here. There’s a line from the movie The Blues Brothers where Jim Belushi says, ‘We’re on a mission from God.’ In the movie that’s a joke but we really believe that.”

As director of the YCCA Wind and Jazz Ensemble, Rutledge has set up numerous significant recordings and events. In 2003, for instance, the ensemble had an opportunity to participate in two drum clinics with Jason Marsalis. The ensemble has also received numerous accolades and awards for performing at various festivals.

The recording with the choir was the product of a meeting between the YMCA and the Mid-York Library System.

Rutledge was immediately won over as soon as he heard a recording of the Harlem choir.

“When we heard the CD it was like ‘Wow, if this doesn’t fit then what does?’” Rutledge said, adding that much of the choir’s repertoire consists of gospel music.

“It’s praise,” said Rutledge. “If you were in a public school, you couldn’t do it. You can sing to the rafters here. In every aspect, it’s praise.”

The YCCA ensemble and the choir recorded three songs together but their efforts were primarily directed toward a recording entitled “There is a Beacon in New York Harbor,” written by Roy Schryver. Leo and George Reyes, the choir’s manager, are currently working to have “There is a Beacon in New York Harbor” become the anthem for New York State.

“The song is about hope for the future,” Leo said.

The YCCA ensemble and the choir also performed “What a Wonderful World” made famous by Louis Armstrong and a song entitled “Let Him Soar.”

The Wind and Jazz Ensemble had already recorded several other pieces. In 2006, the ensemble recorded the world premiere performance of “Katrina,” featuring Leroy Jones on solo trumpet.

Two more CD’s are slated to be released in 2008. The first is entitled “Collaborations” featuring YCCA students and numerous artists from New Orleans. The third CD will feature a Christmas theme and will be released around December of 2008.

Most of the money generated by the CD’s will be committed to scholarships for YCCA students as well as to providing students with musical instruments. Some of the funds are also earmarked to aid artists affected by Hurricane Katrina.

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