gail song bantum

blog on identity, leadership, worship

the heritage mass choir – authentic or assimilated?

ok….over the past month or so, i have been forwarded TONS of youtube videos of this particular all korean choir- the heritage mass choir- singing what we know as african-american contemporary gospel music (mostly, folks were geeked about what they discovered as well as curious what i thought of the group). while there has been incredible interest in the heritage mass choir, i have found the interest itself to be rather fascinating….here’s why:

the heritage mass choir is undoubtedly talented and passionate, but while some may find there adaptation of african-american style gospel unusual, in many ways, this seems to be a natural point of connection between the worship life of korean and african-american christians despite each groups relative ignorance of the other. growing up in pentecostal korean churches and later worshipping in african-american churches, i have always been struck by the deep and almost desperate moments of worship, yearning, and exaltation in both places.

the heritage mass choir expresses something that is not “foreign” to them but has found a timbre that perhaps expresses their own particular worship life, but in a slightly different key.

in many ways, i wonder if the fascination with these worshippers reveals our own limitations — perhaps, the ways we have been more determined by our cultures than our faith to see the deep congruities of hope and yearning among the various brothers and sisters in christ. this is not to say we all should fundamentally worship the same way… don’t get me wrong. but the fact that there has, for so long, been a deep distrust, if not animosity between koreans (and korean-americans) and african-americans while there has also been such an easy assimilation or trust of asians in general (and koreans included) as “quasi” white folk, suggests that perhaps we are ordering our lives together according to desires, hopes, and ideas that are not bound to a certain cultural similarity, but a cultural myth.

what is ironic is that it could be those who deem themselves so culturally different, that are in fact bound by an expression of worship, a history of pain and alienation that is shared and found in such an unusual moment in the heritage mass choir.

if we do not take the moment to think about why we think this group is so wonderful, we risk passing them by too quickly and consequently losing an opportunity god may be presenting us to become truly new people.

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14 thoughts on “the heritage mass choir – authentic or assimilated?

  1. Darlene on said:

    Thanks for challenging us to go deeper.

  2. Lilly on said:

    I think it’s both…it’s obvious they are listening to the same contemporary/gospel/worship music we are all listening to and are inspired to worship Christ. That in itself is awesome!!! I grew up with traditional Christian music . I would sing at church and that was it. I never really got into it, but when I was exposed to mainstream styles of contemporary/gospel/worship music it inspired me to worpship God in a way I never have before. I only listen to gospel/contemporary/worship music. I am happy to see Christ is reaching every nation. Whatever it takes to spread the good news.

  3. Retta on said:

    ….determined by our cultures than our faith.

    The distrust and animosity between the two groups as mentioned is sad. So is the animosity and distrust of African Americans and fill in the spot with any other ethnic group.
    I agree with the last paragraph…to think about why we think this group is so wonderful….and NOT lose the opportunity God may be presenting us to become truly new people….HIS people…who are to be known by the love we have for one another..
    Any way…the choir is praising for all they are worth…it reminds me of the choirs and voices I grew up with….

  4. I’m so glad I found this site…Keep up the good work

  5. Wanda Milian on said:

    Excellent points. As an African-American Christian, I can relate to the amazement about this choir; mostly because this morning in one fell swoop, the simplicity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ clearly being worshipped in Spirit and truth was redefined for me just a little bit more. I have traveled internationally, but didn’t realize that I had placed a “hedge” in my mind around the Lord’s reach throughout the earth. It was on the top of my mind, but it leaped out of my spirit “box” today. My morning praise and worship with Heritage Choir was sweet! Worshipping the One true and living God has no boundaries except the ones we impose ourselves.

    gail song, your insight is really groovy.

  6. Ruth Lynn on said:

    What happened? This Youtube was sent to me and I really enjoyed the Heritage Mass Choir, and now it is nowhere to be found. Can you enlighten me on where it went?

    • L Redford on said:

      Your article caused me to question my excitement for the Heritage Mass Choir expression of praise. I felt as if they share in a like passion for praising God as I do. I have been to many churches over the years and seldom have I seen true passion expressed outwardly towards God. I am a African-American Christian and while I know nothing about the Korean culture, this choir demonstrates themselves as a “soulish” people, as the history of African-Americans have proven to be. Above all, I believe that most people are being attracted to the power of God (some may refer to it as the anointing) obviously felt while listening to the praise of this wonderful choir. That is something that cannot be faked or purchased. God delights in our praises and surely He is delighted by theirs, as so many others are. Do you have any information about a CD they might have available for purchase?

  7. robert floydiii on said:

    Yes I am just a black and to think that it was said that we had nothing to offer the world. God is god.

  8. Excellent point and very well said. Your 2nd & 3rd paragraphs particularly stand out for me, as I have been on a quest in helping folks understand that for quite some time.

  9. william on said:

    Hello. I have listened to the gospel choir Heritage mass Choir on youtube and I really like their songs. Can you tell me how I can go about purchasing their CD? I have been searching around but cannot find it. Please help. Thank you

  10. CHARLES TAYLOR on said:

    WHO IS CHOIR PRESIDENT

  11. I’ve been living in Korea for the last 3 months and have yet to find a church that worships like this. where is this church located? I would love to attend and worship with them.

  12. Chocolate Bear on said:

    I really appreciate you posting the video and your article! It’s so helpful for Christians of different ethnic backgrounds to have safe, healthy places to engage with issues of race and ethnicity. These conversations are soooo formative in our ethnic identity, which impacts our understanding of and our approach to encountering God.

    For the sake of context, I’m an African-American worship leader that values and actively promotes multi-ethnicity in worship. For me personally, part of my amazement with Heritage Mass Choir is their musicality and ability to capture the distinctive musical elements that are part of the legacy of the African-American worship culture…instrumentation, chord progressions, vocal intonation, vocal runs…etc. What’s even more amazing is that they are able to do this while singing in Korean! Many people of different ethnic backgrounds have borrowed from the African-American worship tradition, but have not quite been able to reproduce the same experience and musical feel that feels like part of the African-American “heart language” in worship. This is why I personally love and am amazed by this group!

    As far as race relations go, I was not aware of the tension between African-Americans and Korean/Korean Americans. I personally have a deep love of Korean culture. That being said, from an early age, I was engaged with various elements from Korean culture, including food, martial arts, and deep friendships with Korean Americans. I may not be representative of the norm in that respect. However, there is a deep history of mistrust with certain cultures rooted in years of brokenness in our country. It will truly take God’s help to redeem the brokenness and bring healing to those place. I think discussions like this are part of that process.

    Personally, I don’t think identifying oneself with their ethnic background stands at odds with identifying oneself as a follower of Jesus. In fact, I believe the former dramatically impacts the latter. I actually believe that identifying your ethnic background helps to understand your perspective toward God, your particular strengths, and your values. As people are able to identify that, they can also begin to recognize that there are differences. In my experience, these differences have opened my eyes to the ways others approach God. These have been a blessing to me and have expanded my approach to encountering God. It’s as though I’m learning a new “worship language”!

  13. Virginia Bishop on said:

    I watched two of the Korean Heritage Mass Choir’s selections and I was blown away with their passion and enthusiasim in worshiping God and His Son. While not understanding their language, as an African-American I understood the Spirit in their songs. Praise to God
    Who is the Father of us all!!!

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