But church music remains his passion. And he takes advantage of any opportunity to spread the value of it. In Los Angeles one year, directing a choir made up of high school students participating in the NAACP's Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics, Merrick started teaching the singers about spirituals — new music for many of them.

"The young people were supposed to go to a party with hip-hop at 10 p.m., but at 10:20 they were still in the rehearsal room with me," Merrick said. "They didn't want me to stop. I was amazed."

Getting the younger set to attend performances by the Community Concert Choir is an ongoing goal.

"It just boils down to exposure," Merrick said. "It's just like with theater or literature or classical music. And whether they appreciate it at the time or later, it's important to expose them to it. In this choir, we're restoring for some folks what they may have lost, but we're also trying to impart an inheritance to younger people."

As last weekend's rehearsal wrapped up — first with announcements, then a prayer, much like a church service where everyone is family — Merrick had one more thing to say to the choristers:

"If you haven't invited a young person to this concert, you are doing yourself a disservice."



If you go

The Community Concert Choir of Baltimore performs at 5 p.m. Sunday at Sharp Street Memorial United Methodist Church, Dolphin and Etting Streets. Free admission (freewill offering). Call 410-523-7200