Mum's the word for gospel choir

TOKYO - A choir made up of mothers has been singing gospel songs ahead of Christmas.

On Saturday evening, about 30 members of the Mammy Joy'n Gospel Choir sang "Amazing Grace" at a Christmas tree lighting ceremony held near Nerima Station in Nerima Ward, Tokyo. Many shoppers stopped to listen to their vibrant singing.

The choir was established in 2011 and is based in Nerima and Toshima wards. All 56 members are mothers. Yuumi Yamanobe, an instructor at a vocal school, created the group and recruited members through ward bulletins and the Internet.

There are various theories about the origins of gospel music. Hymns, sung by black people outside whites-only churches, are believed to be the root of gospel music. Yamanobe, who studied music in New York and was able to pop in and sing with gospel choirs there, saw firsthand how churches and gospel music created community bonds.

After Yamanobe returned to Japan, she decided to create a choir for mothers. "Gospel music has energy for living, and I thought mothers would enjoy singing, which could help cheer up their children, families and communities," she said.

Kaoru Sato, a homemaker living in Toshima Ward, took her 8-year-old daughter to one of the choir's concerts in the spring of 2012. After seeing mothers holding their babies, while singing and dancing on the stage, Sato decided to join the choir on the spot.

When Sato sang "Ue o Muite Aruko," which is popularly known in the English-speaking world as "Sukiyaki," in her first concert at a nursing home in Nerima Ward, an elderly man in a wheelchair wept with joy. She felt that even though she was not a good singer, she could convey her feelings to the audience by singing with emotion.

Megumi Onishi, a homemaker from Nerima Ward, joined the choir to make friends with children in September. Her 1-year-old daughter is cute, but Onishi was so busy taking care of her that she had little time to meet her friends or to spend time by herself. As she felt unhappy, she participated in choir practice with her baby, and other mothers gave her advice on child rearing. Currently, Onishi also enjoys singing while she does housework.

Yamanobe is preparing for the group's next concert. "I'll create an event where both Christian and non-Christians can enjoy our music," she said.