'A God-given gift with song' Concert: Gospel Extravaganza tomorrow will fill the theater with the sounds of traditional spirituals and contemporary songs.


Theatre on the Hill at Western Maryland College will resound )) with traditional spirituals and modern tunes during Gospel Extravaganza tomorrow.

Common Ground, a music and art center based at the college, has invited several local groups to perform the music that is "the foundation on which so much other popular music is built," said ** Walt Michael, the founder of the center.

"So many musicians today learned to sing in church," he said. "There is a huge current of wonderful music people don't hear unless they go to these churches."

So, Common Ground is bringing the church music to the public.

Eric Byrd, director of two of the performing choirs and guitarist for Sisters in Harmony, said the extravaganza "is another opportunity to spread the good news." No group makes a more joyful noise than Sisters in Harmony, he said. Alice Dorsey directs the trio that includes her daughters, Shelley Ensor and Renee L. Dorsey, and their friend, Darlene Morrison.

"The Sisters are probably this area's best-known secret," Mr. Byrd said. "It is hard to think of another group that can match their harmony."

Music comes naturally to the women. "They have an extremely good sense of harmony and melody," Mr. Byrd said. "They can hear a song and make it their own. They don't just reproduce a song. They add their own soul."

Sisters in Harmony formed about 1990 and probably has appeared at most churches in the Baltimore area, Mrs. Dorsey said.

Her daughters can't remember a time when they weren't harmonizing or singing solo.

"They have a God-given gift with song," Mrs. Dorsey said.

It was Ms. Morrison who suggested group singing. "We do contemporary gospel and we teach ourselves," she said.

Group members, who all have ties to Union Street United Methodist Church in Westminster, where Mr. Byrd is choir director, rehearse weekly at Mrs. Dorsey's home in Woodlawn.

"Each instantly knows which notes are hers," said Mr. Byrd, who often practices with them.

The initial run-through may be a little halting, as the singers adjust and correct each other.

"The second time is 80 percent better," Ms. Ensor said. "The hardest part is remembering the words."

The women blend three parts with such ease that listeners say they hear one voice.

"We sound like one person because the vibrato falls into line," Ms. Dorsey said.

Each singer can comfortably take the lead, but no one wants to be a standout. It is not always about who sings which notes best.

"I get stuck with the low parts all the time, because I'm always late," Ms. Dorsey said.

"Actually, we are all altos, but they force me to sing high," Ms. Ensor said. "We all know what the other is going to do. It's instinct."

Sisters in Harmony will sing several favorites at the extravaganza. The college's gospel choir, the Union Street Jubileers and Gentlemen's Choir and the Strawbridge Ensemble will join them on stage.

"Common Ground is partly about promoting traditional music, and certainly black gospel is traditional," Mr. Michael said. "With all the stuff in the media about the huge gulf between the races, this is certainly the time to be celebrating commonality."

The concert begins at 7 p.m. Tickets are $12 at the door. Information: 857-2771.

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