Children practice choreography

Children practice choreography for traditional African songs at First Presbyterian Church Sunday.

OTTUMWA — When Christine Bergan decided that the next Ottumwa Area Community Chorus concert would feature African-American spirituals, she also decided that it would include music from the countries where African slaves originated

“There’s a lot of really fun music,” said Bergan, director of OACC since 2016.

Two upbeat songs the children’s chorus will tackle during OACC’s A Million Dreams concert are “Sesere Eeye” from the Torres Strait Islands and “Bonse Aba,” a traditional folk song of the Bemba tribe of Zambia, in the original languages.

“I found some choreography online,” Bergan said, and though she had to change the dances a little, Bergan wanted them to be “as true to the original as possible.”

About 30 children will be part of A Million Dreams Friday at 7:30 at First Presbyterian Church in Ottumwa. “The acoustics in here are great,” said Bergan during Sunday’s rehearsal at the church.

The children have to be reminded to smile, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t enjoying the songs, Bergan said. “I know they’re concentrating, [but] they’re singing like they enjoy it.”

Abby Rodgers and Maggie Haw have sung with the OACC children’s chorus before. “It’s fun,” Rodger said. “I like performing. I like singing.”

The girls like working with Bergan. “It’s good music she picks out,” Rodgers said.

The African lyrics are difficult but not discouraging. “It’s fun,” Haw said. “'Bonse Aba’ is really hard to learn,” but she enjoys it.

“They’re tough, but it’s a good tough,” Rodgers said.

The dancing isn’t tough, the girls agreed. “We’re in dance,” said Haw, so the moves are pretty easy.

“It’s nice to do something different,” Rodgers said of the African music. “It’s just something I don’t hear very much.”

The OACC children’s choir is as multicultural as the concert theme, and Bergan likes that. “I’m excited because of the theme we selected.” Bergan wanted to showcase the diversity of Ottumwa’s people.

The children join OACC’s adults during a couple of numbers, making the composition diverse in age as well. Singers range from first-graders to octogenarians, Bergan said.

Three percussionists will add authentic African rhythms to some of the songs in OACC’s program. German Ramos and Landon Hinckley join Kulu Sadira of Fairfield accompanying African songs with authentic drumbeats.

During his residence in Aspen, Colorado, from 1975 to 1995, Sadira worked with such celebrities as John Denver, Jimmy Buffet, Kenny Loggins, B.B. King and Cher, his biography says.

A fourth guest performer, Indian Hills Professor of Instrumental Music and Jazz David Sharp will play soprano sax on “Give Me Jesus.”

A Million Dreams will include such well-known spirituals as “Soon-ah Will Be Done,” “Elijah Rock” and “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho," the folk song “Shenandoah” and songs from the 2017 musical film “The Greatest Showman.”

First Presbyterian Church is located at 228 W. Fourth St. in Ottumwa. Admission to the concert is free; donations are welcome.

Reporter Winona Whitaker can be contacted at and followed on Twitter @courierwinona.