‘Gospel Music Hymn Sing’ filmed in Morristown
An estimated 1,500 people filled the sanctuary of First Baptist Church in Morristown for the filming of the Gospel Music Hymn Sing on Monday evening, including members of local choirs and gospel music recording artists.
The six large tour buses parked along West Main Street in Morristown on Monday may have seemed to come out of nowhere, but they were all part of native son Gerald Wolfe’s plan.
The founder and lead vocalist of the gospel quartet Greater Vision enlisted a few friends from Nashville and at large to bring to fruition his idea to video a traditional gospel hymn singing at his home church, First Baptist.
“This is the churchiest looking church that we ever sing in,” he would tell the 1,500 member participating audience Monday evening, after two days of on site preparation that began after Sunday morning services and included unloading boxes of what Wolfe referred to as the old red back Church of God hymnals.
Although Wolfe has long-held ties to FBC Morristown, he was raised in the smaller Calvue Baptist Church, where his vocal talents were discovered at a young age on the church’s Sunday morning radio show on WMTN.
“When I was 3, they would take me to the broadcast and have me sing a special,” Wolfe said prior to Monday afternoon’s rehearsal. “Mom was a great singer, and she was the church pianist. I started playing the organ at the church at age 11. I hit the road when I was 17, still in school.”
His more than 30 years in the business garnered Wolfe a large network of professional gospel artists, and gave him an opportunity to try something old, something new at the 2013 National Quartet Convention in Pigeon Forge which attracts an average of 40,000 people from around the world.
Wolfe serves on the convention’s board of directors and tried his idea out with the other members. “I told them ‘Look, I hear so many people in churches talk about they miss the way they grew up singing from the songbook. Now that everybody’s got (large video projection) screens, they miss that. Can we do a morning hymnal singing?’”
The board approved and 3,500 people attended. A follow-up singing on a gospel music cruise was standing room only, which encouraged Wolfe to film a DVD for release.
“We need to be at a church that looks like a church,” he said. “This is one of the prettiest churches in the country. So we brought in a video crew from Nashville. We’re using all high definition surround sound.
“We want the people watching to feel like they are inside the church.” Wolfe said. “We just hope everything goes well.”
After the band, including Stan Whitmire, Cliff Duram, Mike Hopper and Mylon Hayes, warmed up and the professional singers disembarked their buses, Wolfe assumed his directorial role.
By 2:27 p.m., he was smiling during the rehearsal of “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,” the a Capella opening to the show, with no turnaround, meaning the group of nearly 50 gospel recording artists kept singing while the band kicked in.
By a few minutes short of 7 p.m. Wolfe was asking the audience, which began arriving at 5:30 p.m., to “squeeze in.”
“We had people measure; there are exactly enough seats for everyone here,” he said with the typical humorous style he uses on the road with Greater Vision partners Rodney Griffin and Chris Allman.
Nearly 25 hymns were sung during the filming, with standing ovations on several occasions, including the performance by the combined local choirs of FBC and Alpha Baptist Church of “I Know He Heard My Prayer.”
Wolfe had asked the choirs to rehearse the song as it was originally written, a skill he learned during the singing school he attended as a youth. The harmonies were so acutely discernable; the singers on stage could hardly keep their seats.
One by one, the professional gospel performers formed duos and quartets or took solo turns at the microphones to lead off the songs, then retreated to listen to the congregational take over as the boom and steady cameras captured crowd and close-up views.
After five recording bass singers took on the song, “Just a Little Talk with Jesus,” all who sang bass in the audience were called upon to sing a verse. Wolfe then told the professionals, “You can be replaced.”
The audience bass singers included FBC Senior Pastor Dean Haun.
“This is an awesome privilege for us,” he said. “Most of the guys with Greater Vision are out of this church. I’ve seen an old fashioned hymn sing on video, but have never been a part of on, so I’m excited.”
Wolfe’s wife, Donna, and his children are members of FBC. The couple met while in high school and dated for five years before marrying.
“I wanted to be sure she could handle the road life,” he said. “I can’t take any credit for the kids. She has set the course for their life. I’m there two days a week. I come back every week, unless we’re doing a West Coast tour. They go to Alaska every year with us and the quartet convention.”
The Wolfes moved to Ohio for two years in 1986, but returned to Morristown because they prefer the small town life.
“Nashville is where the record companies want you, but I wouldn’t live anywhere else. Morristown is close enough to Nashville. Both sets of our parents are still alive. I’ve told my kids, ‘You’re so lucky to have all your grandparents.’ My oldest is 22 – what are the odds?
“For me it’s more of an opportunity to expose people, especially those in my church, to what I do. I’m the guy who never comes to church, but maybe five times a year. People could say, ‘His wife comes, we ought to put her on the prayer list.’
“I just want them to know what we do. We’ve done a video here before with Greater Vision. At one point during the video, I asked the audience to sing with me. When I listened back through it, I hear four-part harmony, which you don’t hear anywhere else in the country – everybody sings the melody. But here, they grew up singing in church. These people need to be heard. I’m just leading the congregation. It’s all about them.”
A sampling of the artists involved included Karen Peck and New River, Jim and Melissa Brady, Talleys, Brian Alvey, the Hoppers and the Mark Trammel Quartet.
-By Glenna Howington, Tribune Staff Writer