By Nicole Lanzer
A joyous song spills over the still evening asphalt. Each and every harmonious note that floats up into the blackened sky seems to rise from somewhere deep within the city, causing curious passersby to halt suddenly in their paths.
A closer listen reveals the sound of many distinct voices—a beautiful collection of altos and sopranos and tenors singing in passionate unison to a keyboard’s simple chords.
In a single leap of faith, one man has taken the role of building a choral group from the ground up and leading it into the community…
…one spirit-filled note at a time.
Under the direction of Eau Claire native Michael Rambo, The Collective Choir has arrived on the scene and is gaining momentum as the city’s newest singing ensemble.
Since April of this year, the gospel-style choir officially set up shop in the Lighthouse Youth Center located downtown. And just as the name of the headquarters implies, the group has become a beacon of light for people of all walks of life.
“Demographically speaking,” Rambo said, “The Collective Choir has already stood testament to disregarding class and economic status to unify under the purpose of praising Jesus.”
The idea behind The Collective Choir blossomed from a seed planted during Rambo’s time as worship director for Eau Claire’s Tabernacle of Praise Church. Determined to create a downtown choir for area youth, one friend and fellow church-goer enlisted Rambo’s help to get the project gears churning. The director was hesitant at first, but at his friend’s continued persistence, Rambo finally decided it was time to move ahead with the plans that had long been simmering on the backburner.
“I felt God say, ‘Now,’” Rambo said.
And while the choir veered from the original plan of being youth-only to welcome anyone and everyone, it remains true to its purpose of fostering community.
“In a choir it’s not about a star,” Rambo said. “It’s about singing together. When we sing together in community, it changes the atmosphere.”
In Rambo’s estimation, togetherness and the pursuit of unity are what make up the choir’s heart and soul.
“Everybody’s connected as a family,” Rambo said. “I just hope to show the world we are united—we are one.”
After earning a degree in vocal performance from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in 2004, Rambo served in various churches within the community as worship director. It was through those positions that the musician was able to hone his skills of arranging, leading, and singing—soon acquiring all the necessary tools to direct a diverse group of voices.
Deciding to join the choir was no question for Connie Hagen, a member who has known Rambo his entire life and attends Peace Lutheran in Eau Claire where he now leads a worship team.
“When he announced he was starting a choir, I was all in,” Hagen said. “It’s such a blessing to work with Michael! He’s an amazing teacher and has amazing knowledge of music.”
The Collective Choir has developed unique sound that blends gospel, soul, jazz, and hip-hop—a style Rambo hopes will be able to transcend the stigmas surrounding modern church songs.
“The contemporary church is still considered subpar regarding music,” Rambo said. “Gospel music is one of the ways it actually excels, so we’ve been developing our own brand of northern gospel.”
As for the grassroots choral group’s next steps, Rambo says he is optimistic but believes it will require plenty of time for the Eau Claire community to really take notice of the choir and its mission.
“It’ll take a while,” Rambo said. “We have a saying in the church: ‘If you’re going to move the organ, you’re going to have to move it an inch at a time.’”
But while numbers and recognition are always a plus, Hagen believes true fulfillment comes simply from singing songs of praise with the other members.
“The choir brings a smile to my face and puts joy in my heart,” Hagen said. “Most rewarding has been meeting new friends and singing about the love of Jesus.”
Looking ahead, The Collective Choir is scheduled to perform at Eau Claire’s Pizza Plus on Dec. 13, where concert-goers will be treated to a mix of gospel, contemporary, and holiday tunes.
Regardless of what the future holds for Rambo and his troupe of singers, the director’s ultimate hope is for his choir to be an inspiration within the Eau Claire community.
“I want it to be a joyful, shining light in this city,” Rambo said. “To give people hope in God and to encourage people to live life to the fullest.”
And just maybe—as some unsuspecting pedestrian meanders downtown some evening—a single, spirited sound coiling into the starry night will be able to do exactly that.