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'Great Day': New life for old music of black churches

'Great Day': New life for old music of black churches

As afternoon light tried to filter through the thick, stained-glass windows of Sharp Street United Methodist Church last weekend, Marco K. Merrick pounded out the bass line of a spiritual on a raw-sounding piano, singing along in a raspy voice: "Great day, the righteous marching. Great day, God's going to build up Zion's walls."

From the tightly packed pews in front of him, basses and baritones of the Community Concert Choir of Baltimore picked up the vocal line tentatively at first, but gained in confidence with each measure.

That passage settled, Merrick started over, this time bringing the rest of the chorus — more than 130 strong — into the march-tempo music....