Seaside’s prodigal son returns to direct a huge Monterey Peninsula Gospel Community Choir.
Thursday, September 9, 2010
Seaside native John L. Nash, Jr. has been directing gospel choirs since he was 9 years old. Nash’s mother, who was a church singer, recognized his talent and encouraged him musically from an early age. Soon he was directing regionally – while still a teenager.
“One thing led to another and soon I was directing choirs statewide and then nationwide; eventually, I was running gospel workshops overseas,” Nash says.
But it wasn’t until he was in his early 20s that Nash discovered how sublime gospel could be.
“A woman approached me after the church service and I noticed that she was in her pajamas,” Nash begins. “She told me that she was so sick that she couldn’t put on clothes, but she was determined to get to church so she had someone bring her.”
After watching Nash conduct, the woman told him that she received healing and started to feel better through the music he directed.
“That’s when I realized the power, impact and the gift of music,” Nash says. “I knew that people get excited and emotional, but when someone who is ill expresses to you that they received healing while watching you, I knew it was really powerful.”
Though he hasn’t lived on the Peninsula for some years now, Nash continues to share his affection for gospel with the area. Four years ago, he founded the nonprofit Monterey Peninsula Gospel Community Choir, which will perform a free concert at the Golden State Theatre on Sunday afternoon called “Gospel Classics Go Downtown.”
The MPGCC was born after Nash was commissioned to put together a choir for the first Monterey Peninsula Gospel Festival.
“After it was over, I was done because I was commuting from Washington D.C.,” says Nash, who now commutes from his home in Houston, Texas.
In the months that followed the Gospel Festival, folks constantly bombarded Nash every time he came to town, asking if he was going to keep the choir going.
Several meetings led to MPGCC’s first rehearsal two years ago and what began as a 22-person roster grew into 75 very quickly. Nash stresses that MPGCC is not a religious choir. In fact, the group is made up of individuals that subscribe to everything from Buddhism and Judaism to agnosticism and Catholicism.
“We’re a congregant of individuals who love the art form of gospel music,” he says. “We’ve come together to learn how to sing it, how to present it and to learn the history. I don’t introduce religion because it’s all about the music and I let the music do the work.”
The program at the Golden State will feature songs by gospel greats like Thomas Dorsey, James Cleveland, Andraé Crouch and Richard Smallwood, masters of the traditional style that’s light on Jesus talk and heavy on most universal inspirational themes. Saxophonists Kevin Moore and Luis Lenzi will accompany the choir along with composer John Wineglass on keyboard.
As an airline steward, Nash travels the world and has found gospel lovers everywhere from Israel to Japan, but he always seems to make his way back to his childhood home on the Central Coast.
“I just want to expose the Monterey Peninsula, and anyone who wants to hear and learn the broad spectrum of this art form,” Nash says. “[Gospel] is life-changing and life-giving energy that soothes, calms and is pretty much whatever you need it to be.”