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Feeling sad with the advent of cold, dark days? Do snow flurries chill your soul as well as your nose? If you said “Yes!” (or even thought it), then please come to the Nov. 19 Oak Park and River Forest High School Gospel Choir concert at 7 p.m. For a mere $7, you can recharge your spirit no matter what your faith — or lack of it. The Gospel Choir consists of young people joyfully singing together with an “attitude of gratitude” that our community, and our world, needs now.

Lately, OPRF has been in the news for a lot of negative things: drug abuse, theft and failure to meet testing standards. But those problems only tell a small part of the story. There is so much going on that is positive and affirming at 201 N. Scoville.

The Gospel Choir gives voice to the remarkable energy that our youth carry with them to a challenging world. It is a voice we all need to hear, not just the parents and friends of choir members. Believe me, the concert will change your outlook.

Two years ago, I dreaded walking into OPRF. One of my children was struggling with attendance and other issues. I flinched every time the phone rang at 6 p.m. since it was always one of those automated, “Your child was absent the following periods” calls. My entire body tensed whenever I passed through the entrance and into the airy lobby because I was usually there for some problem. Despite my child’s stellar academic dean and several caring teachers, I had started to view the high school as “the enemy.”

As a last-minute, “nothing’s on TV let’s go to this concert we read about in the paper” decision, my husband and I drove to OPRF on a November evening. It was cold and dark outside and, predictably, I tensed up as I walked in the building. But I kept walking to the auditorium.

Once the music started, once the powerful voices of the ensemble and soloists filled that large space, I forgot about being tense. I clapped, swayed, and danced along with most of the audience. When the concert ended, I felt better about the high school. It didn’t take away the challenges my child and family faced, but it interrupted my negativity about the place. I felt hopeful, and hope will keep us going in the hard times. So I keep going to the Gospel Choir concerts.

By the way, it doesn’t matter that I’m Catholic and white. Gospel music, like classical choral works, focuses on faith that can either be taken literally as prayer, or figuratively as recognition that there is something larger than ourselves at work in the world. You don’t need to be Austrian or religious to appreciate Mozart’s Requiem Mass and you don’t need to be black or Baptist to enjoy a Gospel concert. You just need to feel happy, and that is something we can all say “Amen!” to right now.

Sheila Black Haennicke is an Oak Park resident, writer and mom whose MP3 play list jumps from Mahalia Jackson to Maroon 5 and every point in-between. The Gospel Choir Concert, There is a King in You, will be performed at 7 p.m. on Nov. 19 at 201 N. Scoville. Tickets are $7.

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