There are about 120 different churches represented in the cast of this year's Christian Festival Choir and Orchestra. It's an impressive number for any Toledo-area project, but it's only 10 percent of founder Roger Bradley's dream.
The energetic musician and conductor is shooting for the participation of all 1,200 churches in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan that he has in his database. He wants to bring Christians of all faith traditions and ethnic backgrounds together to celebrate Jesus in music, dance, and drama.
“We want people to consider this as an extension of their church. We are not competing with anybody,” Mr. Bradley said.
He founded the ecumenical group as a way to unify and to serve the area's diverse Christian community. Churches that sing together will be more likely to work together in other ways, he said.
The CFCO, which has about 125 choir members and 60 people in its orchestra, will give two fall performances this year. The first will be at the SeaGate Convention Center in Toledo on Nov. 10 and the second will be presented Nov. 16 at the Christian Family Centre in Adrian, Mich..
The musical selections cover a wide spectrum, including classical, contemporary gospel, traditional hymns, and modern praise and worship.
“Since our goal is to touch every flavor of Christian there is, therefore the music has to follow that track as well,” Mr. Bradley said.
The Christian Festival Choir and Orchestra made its debut in 1982 and performed annually until 1987, after which Mr. Bradley felt it necessary to take a break.
“I could summarize it by saying that the Lord was busy developing some qualities in me that He was looking for but was not seeing at that point in time,” Mr. Bradley said. “It was a very painful thing.”
The choir lay dormant until 1996, when the Rev. Tom Rupli of New Life Tabernacle Church in Petersburg, Mich., persuaded Mr. Bradley to direct the choirs from four churches in a combined Christmas cantata.
The choir kept growing and in 1999 organizers decided to move away from a Christmas theme. Liturgical dancers were added and this year there will be some live drama and props, including an eight-foot-tall heavenly throne flooded by spotlights and swirling fog during the praise-and-worship segment.
Merle Grams, president of the CFCO, said the eight-person executive board started planning this year's concerts as soon as last year's events ended. The choir and orchestra have been rehearsing since late August.
This year's program will also feature special guest artists Devin Webb, Brandon Fraley, and Proclaim. Mr. Bradley, who is a music director at St. Paul's United Methodist Church downtown, will be joined by three guest conductors, Gordon Simpson, John Tyner, and Dr. Gene Trantham.
“We are achieving momentum and we've been coming of age recently,” said Mr. Bradley.
Organizing the show and getting the many singers, musicians, dancers, actors, stagehands, and directors to work in harmony has become almost a full-time, year-round job for Mr. Bradley, 60, and his wife, Jan.
“I will plead guilty to being the hardest working guy on the team, but what makes us distinctive is that we really are a team,” Mr. Bradley said. “We don't allow any one person to look like he's claiming all the credit for anything.”
The Christian Festival Choir and Orchestra performs at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 10 at the SeaGate Convention Centre, 401 Jefferson Ave., Toledo, and at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 16 at the Christian Family Centre on U.S. 223 in Adrian, Mich. Tickets, available at most area Christian bookstores, are $10 in advance, $12.50 on the day of the show, and $8 for children 10 and under.