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Gospel Choir Participates in International Jazz Festivals

A world-class performance opens doors for a top Toronto Gospel choir to share the message of salvation with secular audiences internationally.

The Jireh Gospel Choir believes in "ministry with musical excellence," says founder and director Carol Bernard. The interdenominational Montreal group of 12 to 18 singers and four band members is now making itself known on the secular music scene in Europe and Quebec.

Jireh performed as part of the Cirque du Soleil closing the show to a crowd of more than 200,000 people.

The message of the music is central to every Jireh performance. "We don't do altar calls, but I explain the songs," says Bernard. "We move from praise to testimony to invitation, like the progression in church worship music." A Jireh set typically concludes with "Can't give up now" and "His name is Jesus." "I don't have to comment on that one," says Bernard. "The words are so clear. 'Oh, Happy Day' is a good, upbeat finale."

This summer, Jireh's passion for quality resulted in invitations to perform in two high profile International Jazz Festivals.

Jireh was in Switzerland July 3 to 7 at the prestigious Montreux Jazz Festival, one of the biggest and oldest in the world. The choir performed two Jazz Fest concerts, both in what Bernard calls "idyllic" settings. The first presentation was to a crowd gathered beside Lake Lemans, surrounded by mountains. The second concert was given on the lower deck of a cruise ship. "At the end of that one I was no longer directing. I was just crying. I was still floating all the next day," says Bernard.

The group also performed two church-sponsored concerts. One was a low-budget outdoor event in a natural square in the city of Villeneuve. Many people, including the pastor of the congregation of 30 people, expressed the belief that this particularly difficult area is a stronghold of the devil. More than 200 people came to hear the group.

Another concert was organized by a church of about 80 in Nyon. It was attended by 250 people, including several university professors. "I like to work with churches because people who are invited have a natural connection with local Christians afterwards," says Bernard.

Much of the funding for the trip to Switzerland came from the opportunity to play at the Montreal Jazz Festival on July 11.

Jireh performed as part of the Cirque du Soleil closing the show to a crowd of more than 200,000 people. "They were looking for a Gospel choir for closing night and they asked us," says Bernard. Jireh performed three songs, chosen by the Cirque du Soleil.

According to Bernard, the group prayed and asked for counsel from spiritual advisors concerning their participation in the event. They believe that God can use their music anywhere, but they do not want to compromise in any way in order to fit in. "It was a story about the sun and moon coming together. The songs they chose for us were good. They asked us to wear masks at the end and we said no."

The group also learned something from the Cirque duSoleil performers. "They are so passionate about what they do, says Bernard, "and they have an incredible sense of team spirit."

Bernard, born in Montreal to Jamaican parents, started classical piano lessons when she was eight years old. Although her academic and career path led her to a senior management position at Canadian National Railways, music remained her first love. She left her CN job in 1999 to devote herself to the Jireh choir and the Gospel music workshops she teaches, mostly to secular audiences.

Jireh (pronounced Jy-ra) means provider in Hebrew. Bernard, who founded the choir in August 1996 says, "God has certainly provided for us." Her desire is that other people know that He can do the same for them.

Marg Buchanan is the Quebec correspondent for ChristianWeek. She can be reached at

Originally published in ChristianWeek, August 17, 2004.




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