Monday’s evening rain in Belton may have soaked the streets, but it didn’t put a damper on the men and women entering the First Baptist Church choir room. Smiles and greetings lit up the rehearsal space as the 50-odd members of Central Texas Master Singers said hello, took their seats and began their final practice session of the season.
The night’s musical goal was clear-cut: Sunday’s season finale concert at Grace United Methodist Church in Copperas Cove. The singers only glanced occasionally at the sheet music, and director Steven Kirkpatrick explained: “We’re fully memorized — that’s a big deal.”
The vocal ensemble specializes in “the profound delivery of contemporary Christian choral and praise music,” and the musical selections included “The Promise” and “The Lord Is My Light.” Sunday’s concert will feature about 20 pieces, Kirkpatrick said, and most rehearsed Monday were contemporary adaptations of hymns, anthem-like compositions and arrangements firmly within the current “praise and worship” genre.
The singers are a mobile group, swaying, smiling and emphasizing the lyrics with gestures. Many are school teachers, church choir members, college students and some have no formal training, according to the Master Singers website.
“We have all ages,” Emily Kirkpatrick said. “Our youngest is in high school and they range up from there.”
The choir rehearses weekly for nine months of the year; the three-month summer break begins immediately after Sunday’s concert. Singers auditioning are welcomed 30 minutes before rehearsals and are expected to memorize all music, and consistently attend practice sessions and scheduled performances.
The vocalists aren’t shy about being a part of Master Singers.
“I love it — it fills a void in my life,” tenor Scott Tolar said. “There are not many places in the country where you can sing like this.”
Steven Kirkpatrick also serves as music director at Grace UMC in Cove, and founded the Master Singers in 2009. The choir, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, has many financial contributors and released three compact discs. All rehearsals are open to the public for a musical listening experience, and the group will “occasionally accept invitations to perform benefit concerts.”
The singers will be amplified Sunday. “The sound check’s important, and we’ve got percussion, too,” Kirkpatrick said.
The concert lasts “about an hour and 15 minutes,” he said.
Speaking between songs, Kirkpatrick defined the role of the Master Singers. “It’s not a church choir. It’s not a community choir — it is what it is.”