Community Choir bound for glory

January 26, 1997


Staff Writer

Between her job at Citicorp Credit Services Inc. and a 14-year-old son at home, it's hard enough for Ruby Settles to find time to practice with one choir, let alone two.

"I make the time to do it because I know it's going to glorify and please the Lord," said Settles, 38, who already was singing with the choir at Zion Baptist Church on West Bethel Street when she joined the Community Mass Choir last fall.

T.J. Blake, who led a community choir in Hagerstown in the 1970s, had been asked to put together a community choir to perform for the annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, held in Hagerstown in October.


Letters asking for volunteers were sent to local churches, most in the black community, said Blake, who managed to get a group of about 30 people together for two convention-related performances.

Things went so well, choir members didn't want to disband, he said.

"They sounded really good, and that sort of jazzed everybody up," said Blake, 40, who serves as the Community Mass Choir's musical director and pianist/organist.

Last week, the choir performed at a community celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday. Next on the schedule is a free Black History Month program on Feb. 16 at 4 p.m. at North Hagerstown High School.

"It looks like it's starting to take off," said Blake, who said word-of-mouth seems to be stirring an interest in both membership and performances.

Blake said he wouldn't mind seeing the choir grow to more than 100 members.

Members needn't be black, in a church choir or even good singers, he said.

"It's not closed to just the churches in the black community," he said. "Anyone who wants to sing is welcome to join. Basically, the deal is if you come and rehearse, you're welcome to sing."

Rehearsals usually are on the weekends because Blake works split shifts during the week at Johns Hopkins Research Center in Baltimore.

Choir practice doesn't cut in to Blake's family time.

His wife, Alicia Blake, is choir director. His mother, Maxine Blake, sings in the choir. The Blakes' 13-year-old son, Durrell, plays the drums.

So far, the group has about six songs in its repertoire, said Alicia Blake, 39. They try to choose simple songs so that even young children can participate, she said.

"I encourage it," said T.J. Blake, who taught himself to play guitar and piano as a teenager in order to play with the choir at King's Apostle Holiness Church of God.

He's been performing for the Lord ever since, he said.

"I don't take any payment because I believe it's just a little something the Lord gave me," said Blake, who said the way he feels about his music prevents him from choosing any secular songs for the group.

Blake said he likes to take traditional hymns, like "I'll Fly Away," and arrange them his own - often jazzier - way. He's also taught the choir an original song called "Slow Down," which has become a favorite, he said.

  • For more information about the choir, call 745-6211.
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