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Danish Methodist brings musical touch to festival

8/8/2003 News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.

This report is a sidebar to UMNS story #396. A photograph is available.

By Kathleen LaCamera*

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
Peter Steinvig, a Danish Methodist and creator of the Copenhagen Gospel Festival, leads a gospel choir workshop at the European Methodist Festival in Potsdam, Germany. Steinvig’s Danish gospel choirs have toured Europe and the United States. A UMNS photo by Kathleen LaCamera. Photo number 03-269 Accompanies UMNS story #398, 8/8/03
POTSDAM, Germany (UMNS) - Song sheets with words but no music are passed around the room. People who have never sung together before murmur to one another.

"We have five things here on this sheet to sing," announces Peter Steinvig, Danish Methodist and gospel music expert. "But we may not sing them in the order on your page, and we may sing them more than once, so you have to watch."

Steinvig's partners, British gospel singers Ruth Lynch and Junior Robinson, demonstrated standard gospel hand signals that help keep a choir together. With little more preparation than that, the group is off singing its way through the rhythmic Caribbean tones of "Hallowed Be Thy Name."

Welcome to the European Methodist Festival Gospel Workshop and to something many participants have never tried before: singing with a gospel choir. The workshop is one of many at the July 30-Aug. 3 gathering.

"You sing nice, but too nice," Steinvig tells the group with a laugh. "You can make it much more punchy. Forget legato. You just have to relax. There's always a pulse to the music."

The son of a Methodist minister and a classically trained organist, Steinvig not only directs three Danish gospel choirs, but founded the Copenhagen Gospel Festival, now in its 11th year. He started his first gospel choir at his father's church in 1975. Still going strong, the choir has toured Europe and the United States, and staged a performance at the 2000 General Conference in Cleveland. The Washington Post reviewed another of the group's U.S. concerts.

In addition to his gospel choir responsibilities, Steinvig is the organist and music director for a Lutheran church in Copenhagen, Denmark's capital.

It was in his father's church, as a child, that he first heard Africans singing. "I just knew it was different," says Steinvig, who has five children of his own. "I love classical music but also love modern music more."

A big fan of Eric Clapton, he sees himself as a kind of "Christian equivalent; a white guy doing the black blues."

After studying classical music in Europe, Steinvig was offered the opportunity to do post-graduate work in church music at United Methodist-related Duke University. While living in North Carolina, he visited black churches all over the area.

"I'm touched by the history of black people, which gives me a special love of this music," Steinvig says. "It's exciting to do Christian music that has a very modern way of expressing itself,"

Participants in the Methodist festival workshop agree. By the end of the three-hour session, a self-proclaimed British "stick in the mud" is belting out harmonies with the best of them.

Karoline Wueth, who works in Christian music publishing in Germany, says she always sings with the music in front of her.

With a smile, she says: "Singing this way is far more adventurous."

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*LaCamera is a United Methodist News Service correspondent based in England.

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