collECtive Choir combines local voices for gospel sound
A joyous song erupts over the still evening asphalt. Each and every harmonious note that floats up into the blackened sky seems to rise from somewhere deep within the gutters of the city, causing curious passersby to halt suddenly in their paths.
A closer listen reveals the sound of many distinct voices – a beautiful collection of altos and sopranos and tenors singing in passionate unison to a keyboard’s simple chords.
In a single leap of faith, one man has taken the role of building a choral group from the ground up and of leading it into the community, one spirit-filled note at a time.
Under the direction of Eau Claire native Michael Rambo, the CollECtive Choir has arrived on the scene and is gaining momentum as the city’s newest singing ensemble. In April, the gospel-style choir officially set up shop in the Lighthouse Youth Center, 310 E. Madison St. And just as the name of the headquarters implies, the group has become a beacon of light for people of all walks of life.
“In a choir it’s not about a star. It’s about singing together. When we sing together in community, it changes the atmosphere.” – Michael Rambo, CollECtive Choir director
The idea behind the CollECtive Choir blossomed from a seed planted during Rambo’s time as worship director for Eau Claire’s Tabernacle of Praise Church. Determined to create a downtown choir for area youth, one friend and fellow churchgoer enlisted Rambo’s help to get the project’s gears churning. The director was hesitant at first, but at his friend’s continued persistence, Rambo finally decided it was time to move ahead with the plans that had long been simmering on the backburner.
And while the choir veered from the original plan of being youth-only, it instead evolved into a group that welcomes anyone and everyone in the aim of fostering community.
“In a choir it’s not about a star,” Rambo said. “It’s about singing together. When we sing together in community, it changes the atmosphere.”
In Rambo’s estimation, togetherness and the pursuit of unity are what make up the choir’s heart and soul.
“Everybody’s connected as a family,” Rambo said. “I just hope to show the world we are united – we are one.”
After graduation from UW-Eau Claire in 2004 with a degree in vocal performance, Rambo served in various churches within the community as worship director. It was through those positions that the musician was able to hone his skills of arranging, leading, and singing, soon acquiring all the necessary tools to direct a diverse group of voices.
Deciding to join the choir was no question for Connie Hagen, who has known Rambo his entire life and attends Peace Lutheran in Eau Claire where Rambo works.
“When he announced he was starting a choir, I was all in,” Hagen said. “It’s such a blessing to work with Michael. He’s an amazing teacher and has amazing knowledge of music.”
The CollECtive Choir has even adopted its own unique sound that blends gospel, soul, jazz, and hip-hop – a style Rambo hopes will be able to transcend the stigmas surrounding modern church songs. “The contemporary church is still considered subpar regarding music,” Rambo said. “Gospel music is one of the ways it actually excels, so we’ve been developing our own brand of Northern gospel.”
So where is this grassroots choral group headed now? While optimistic, Rambo believes it will require plenty of time for the Eau Claire community to really take notice of the choir and its mission.
“It’ll take a while,” Rambo said. “We have a saying in the church: ‘If you’re going to move the organ, you’re going to have to move it an inch at a time.’ ”
But while numbers and recognition are always a plus, Hagen believes true fulfillment comes simply from singing songs of praise with the other members.
“The choir brings a smile to my face and puts joy in my heart,” Hagen said.
Regardless of what the future holds for Rambo and his troupe of singers, the director’s ultimate hope is for his choir to be an inspiration within the community.
“I want it to be a joyful, shining light in this city,” Rambo said.
And just maybe – as some unsuspecting pedestrian meanders downtown some evening – a single, spirited sound coiling into the starry night will be exactly that.
A CollECtive Choir Christmas (With Friends) • Sunday, Dec. 13, 7-9pm • The Plus, 208 S. Barstow St., Eau Claire • FREE • (715) 832-8844 • facebook.com/collectivechoir