Soul survivors

Taos Gospel Choir plans 21st anniversary holiday-themed show


Mary Bruschini is the charismatic founder, director and pianist of the Taos Gospel Choir. She left New York City over a decade ago to be around nature and experience the four seasons. Without doing much research, she says she “hightailed it to Taos” and became a working musician.

Bruschini started the choir because she missed the African American cultural experience of living in her old New York neighborhood. She said, “Taos is like Noah’s Arc, there are two of everything, lots more poets and writers than musicians, but there are so many talented singers in the area, I wanted to create a live rehearsal situation every week, exploring new materials.” The choir will be celebrating 21 years, with their annual concert Tuesday (Dec. 19), 6:30 p.m., at The Taos Inn, 125 Paseo del Pueblo Norte.

Graphic artist Barbara Davis, a six-year veteran of the choir, started with the group after her son went missing. “A friend saw I was in distress and encouraged me to join a rehearsal and the choir was also short a mezzo-soprano. Gospel music is powerful, and it took the edge off the pain, and strangely enough, a year later to the date, my son reappeared with a phone call to say he was OK, on my way home from a choir rehearsal.”

The group rehearsal style is challenging for a classically trained musician, as there is no written format to follow. Bruschini intended this because she wants the experience to resemble the early gospel music source of the ‘20s and ‘30s and the African American experience in the era of Jim Crow and slavery when the music was passed on as an oral history.

“The music relies heavily on the singers listening to each other,” Davis says, “and is about overcoming the bondage of some kind, freedom from the bondage of self or the government.”

Members of the choir share a passion with their director for performing this historic genre of music. Choir member Nicole Haworth sang with the group as a teenager and returned to the group at 30 years old. She says about her experience with Taos Gospel Choir, “I am so grateful to have such an opportunity.”

Local musician and member of the choir, Katie Palmier, said “There is something about singing gospel that is so rewarding and healing. It hits all the heartstrings. It is very emotional and therapeutic. It touches you no matter what race or where you came from, you cannot help but feel it.”

Linda Stokas, one of the original members, said, “I’ve been a member of this choir for nearly 20 years. It’s a grounding force in my life. It’s a gift to have someplace to go every Tuesday evening and leave everything behind and just be in the music. I love gospel, soul, the blues. It’s a spiritual thing to just throw down from the heart; it’s some of the best medicine I’ve ever experienced.”

Ethan Skip Sockwell says about the Gospel music idiom; “Gospel music is all about inspiration, hope and faith in the divine. This music feeds our souls as we sing it and our greatest wish during this holiday season is that we can feed the souls of those who come to hear the praise and joy of our message.”

Musician Rick Halterman, the guitar and bass player for the group, said about music, “Gospel music, for me, is an oasis in a world that’s become obsessed with speed and efficiency rather than connection and what it is that makes us human. Like all great art, it touches both the heights and depths of experience so that if you aren’t moved, you’re probably not alive.”

Other members include: Deb Curtis, Jim Greenberg, Beth Searcey, Judy Katzman, Bear Schact, Barbara Tullman-Malisow, with Rick Haltermann on guitar and bass. Cullen Winter will be on drums for this concert and Harlan Kesson is doing sound.

Director Bruschini encourages concert-goers to arrive early to get the best seats, as The Taos Inn is an intimate setting. She said this is the choir’s most popular concert, and people fly in from other parts of the United States for the experience.

For more information, call the venue at (575) 758-2233.