Charles Little remembers conducting choirs at outdoor revival services.
"Once you're out in the open air, the music starts to travel through the air, and people want to see what's going on," says Little, a former choir director in Fayette County Public Schools.
Little and the Lexington Singers are hoping the music of the seventh annual Festival of Choirs will have that same sort of Pied Piper effect when the concert takes its act outside.
On Saturday afternoon, the Singers will be joined by choirs from Greater Liberty Baptist Church, Jimtown Baptist Church and the St. Peter Claver Catholic Church men's ensemble in the parking lot of the University of Kentucky's Polk-Dalton Clinic, across the street from the Lyric Theatre.
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Nicholas Nickl, president of the Lexington Singers, said the renovation of the Lyric was part of the inspiration for taking the festival to the streets. In previous years, it had been inside Shiloh Baptist Church.
"It seemed like a way to bring the festival out of the building and inject it into the community," Nickl said.
The festival was created as a way to bring the singers, a group whose membership is mostly white, together with the choirs of traditionally African-American churches. And for the most part, it has been a success, Nickl said, though he added that at the last festival, he didn't see as much of the community surrounding the church in the audience as he had hoped.
For Saturday's concert, Elm Tree Lane in front of the clinic will be blocked to traffic, creating the possibility of an atmosphere akin to the Roots and Heritage Festival, held each September.
Little and Nickl say they like the idea of the choir festival possibly growing and staging multiple performances in multiple spaces — say inside and outside the Lyric. Little, who has co-directed the event with Singers conductor Jefferson Johnson for five years, says he likes the idea of expanding beyond just white and black congregations.
"I would love to see the involvement of Hispanic churches in the future," Little says. "Whoever wants to come, let them come."
The cross-cultural element of the event is choirs, which Little says people are drawn to naturally for harmony, in more than one sense.
Choirs have a sense of community, he says, and they involve intricate singing people do not always hear.
Nickl notes that Johnson was a little skittish about the idea of taking the show outside because of its effect on acoustics. The logistics are also more complex for this festival, including outdoor public-address equipment and a tent for the performances. Shiloh Baptist is still on hold as an alternate venue if it rains.
But to organizers, any complications are outweighed by potential benefits.
"I just enjoy seeing the choirs come together," Little says. "And I hope, this way, more people will see it."