by Lars H. Pedersen from Christian Radio Norway for the Music Channel at crosswalk.com

To read this story in its original Norwegian, click here!

Gospel music has been lifted out of the church room, and into the souls of ordinary Norwegians. The reason? Oslo Gospel Choir. After ten years of continuous performances, Oslo Gospel Choir is still the gospel choir of this fjord country.

THE START
Around 1988, good voices in Oslo were looking for a choir that was doing black gospel. "I wanted to develop an opportunity, more than the traditional ten-sing movement that had been there for years. The idea was to gather people once or twice a year for a workshop on the thing they really loved, singing gospel," says Tore Aas, founder and director of Oslo Gospel Choir. The response was formidable. Tore had figured that some thirty people would answer the call. A few days later he found himself with two hundred gospel souls on the table. Following an audition, thirty-two of them were getting ready to renew and push ahead gospel music in Norway.

TV BREAKTHROUGH
In March 1989, TV host Dan Brge Aker heard of this new gospel choir rehearsing at a bible school in central parts of Oslo. Up to this point, putting a Christian choir into a Saturday night TV-show was considered bad entertainment. Listening to the choir, Aker was convinced that what he was hearing had to be a success. "For once I was sure that a television appearance would hit home for the around one million Norwegian viewers watching. They were unique. Traditionally, there is one soloist that makes the center point of a choir. Not so this time. The solo singers performed excellent without taking away the impression of the choir as a whole."

He recalls the nearly twenty minutes of prayer time that the Oslo Gospel Choir wouldn't miss before any appearance. "This was a new experience for the television staff, having artists who would turn to God in front of the show, praying that their message would reach the hearts of those watching. At one occasion the choir almost missed the show, as they were too busy worshipping."

Following this TV appearance, the choir was hired for all kind of performances all around the country. "It seemed like everyone had seen the show," says Tore Aas.

Rune Larsen, an established record producer who already had successful Norwegian singer Sissel Kyrkjeb on his Noah label, became aware of OGC. Calling Aas one day, he suggested that the first recording of the OGC be a mercy concert supporting an aid organization. A certain eye clinic run by a Christian humanitarian group in Calcutta was their idea. Tore Aas had already turned down several recording offers, but this time he had the right feeling. The idea matched his conviction of Christian people being obliged to help those who are suffering. The concert made around $125 000 that went into the further development of the clinic. Today, the Garia Eye Hospital treats some 250 people each day, doing most of them for free as a service to the poorest of Calcutta. Also, the members of the OGC established their personal support of individual children in India.

THE GOSPEL GURU
Right from the start, Tore Aas was greatly influenced by American gospel, and {{Andrae Crouch}} in specific. "As I see it, he has lifted the traditional gospel music out of the church and into the streets, where everyone can enjoy it. I really like his way of preaching the gospel. Inviting people into our Father's house has been one of our missions too."

Andrae' had supported Tore on a record with Elisabeth Widmer in the mid-eighties. Having done songs with Tore Aas even before the OGC was founded, Andrae' Crouch soon had his heart into Oslo Gospel Choir. "Andrae' was curious about the OGC, and soon he got over to sing with us. After this, a mutual love affair evolved between him and the choir. He liked this 'white' black gospel choir, and the choir loved Crouch and his way of doing things," says Tore Aas.

Just that thing, a group of white people, trying to sound like a real black gospel choir, drew critical commentaries at home in Norway. "It's really nothing to worry about," thinks Tore Aas; "black people listening to us don't have that kind of view. I believe that our gospel style is different from the style of the churches in America, anyway. We are taking elements of traditional gospel and putting it into our way of singing." Andrae' Crouch says in the book about the Oslo Gospel Choir; "They are extremely talented, but they will never turn black. This is white gospelthenwhat's wrong with white gospel?"

Tore finds it hard to describe what makes a real good gospel choir song. "It is a very personal thing. To me, the song has to find its way into my soul and have something to tell me." The first song that the choir rehearsed when they gathered in 1988 was "We Are Not Ashamed," written by Andrae' Crouch, and since then it has been some sort of a theme song for the Oslo Gospel Choir. Up to 1998 the choir recorded twenty Crouch songs, and eventually did a joint recording with him in Paris, the Live in Paris album.

RECORDS
After the first live record in 1990, Oslo Gospel Choir recorded eleven albums until 1998. The first three of them contained straight-ahead gospel material, with songs from Crouch and others, like Richard Smallwood's "In This House" (title song), Edwin Hawkins' "Oh, Happy Day," and more songs written by Tore Aas himself and Jan Groth. One of them, "Your Love" is featured on Andrae' Crouch's recent album ==Pray==.

The next recording was a Christmas album, released both in Norwegian and English, titled The Christmas Way. On this one, Oslo Gospel Choir was joined by the Norwegian crown princess, Märtha Louise as soloist.

Following another gospel album, the choir established the Gloria project, taking each of the members into another musical style. "They wanted to do a musical, they wanted to do a bit more than singing nicelyand, there's a lot of good actors in our choir," says Tore Aas. "Well, maybe we can move into the church room, and do a musical mass with less costumes and lights," he thought. Aas met with street reverend and songwriter Hans Olav Mrk. They got the idea to combine the story of biblical people working in the setting of the mass. In that way, Gloria evolved to be a very basic performance of faith for the choir, and a solid public response confirmed the significance of doing it.

With the Live in Paris album a year later, the OGC went way back into the gospel track. Then, following the great success of the choir in Holland, a praise album "Reaching Heaven" was released. This, in fact, was based on the pre-concert worship sessions they had conducted over the years.

Through the years, the Oslo Gospel Choir has also backed a lot of artists, like Sissel Kyrkjeb, Lava and Danish artist Hanne Boel.

COUNSELING
The Oslo Gospel Choir hired Per Arne Dahl as their professional spiritual supervisor; and he found a bunch of young people who wanted to dig deeper into the life they presented through their gospel repertoire. "The strength of the choir is apparently that they have learned more than their 'Gloria.' They also know the 'Kyrie' cry, and I saw a group of young people who have had to struggle with sin, sometimes hitting their head against the wall. And yet they really want to give their victories, honor, defeats and shortcoming to Christ. They sang 'Lord, have mercy on us,' and meant it. They proclaimed 'Honor be to the Lord,' and let their joy out."

MAKING WAY
Yes, the Oslo Gospel Choir has meant a whole lot to the gospel movement in Norway - and they have made room for more professional choirs to enter the arena. As they made it legitimate to listen to the gospel preached through music, a row of others has followed, now offering us ice-bears of Norway more of the heart-warming gospel music.