Packed line-up to perform at Dalton Rashad Criss Adirondack High School Honors Gospel Festival

Apr. 18—PLATTSBURGH — The Plattsburgh State Gospel Choir, Fermata Nowhere, and Dalton Rashad Criss Adirondack High School Honors Gospel Festival Choir will take the main stage on Saturday, April 20 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the historic Strand Theatre, 23 Brinkerhoff St. in Plattsburgh.

The concert features more than 50 high-school students from across the Adirondacks and Vermont Champlain Valley region who will come together for two days to learn and perform a concert featuring a cappella, concert spirituals, contemporary gospel, traditional gospel and inspirational ballads.

Dr. Raymond Wise, of Indiana University in Bloomington, is the invited clinician for the festival, who will be accompanied by pianist David Powell.

Wise serves as Professor of Practice in the African American African Diaspora Studies department and instructs courses in African American Music. He is the associate director of the African American Arts Institute, an IU division devoted to the perpetuation and performance of African American Music and Art.

The program host will be Dr. Dexter L. Criss, professor of chemistry at SUNY Plattsburgh, and artistic director of the Plattsburgh State Gospel, co-founder of the Adirondack High School Honors Choir, and director of the Lake Champlain Mass Choir.

Criss met Wise in the early 2000s when he first attended the Gospel Music Workshop of America (GMWA).

"And for those who know James Cleveland, he is really the father of traditional gospel music as we know it," Criss said.

"Of course, everybody knows about Thomas Dorsey, who is considered to be the father of gospel music back in the 1930s. James Cleveland came along, the '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, those eras, and a lot of the traditional church music that you hear — 'Peace Be Still,' 'I Don't Feel No Ways Tired' — that's James Cleveland."

Cleveland started MWA, and Wise is one of the teachers there.

"So, my first time there, I took one of Raymond's courses and I was amazed," Criss said.

"I was inspired. I was like I've got to get him to Plattsburgh. This is Raymond's third time in Plattsburgh. He did a workshop in Burlington, eight, nine years, ago. But Raymond works at Potsdam with the Crane School of Music. So, he's not a stranger to the North Country at all."

This unique festival promises to provide both students and high school chorus teachers with the history, evolution and impact of gospel music on the human experience. Students will take away from this clinic an enhanced level of sophistication about gospel music styles and will be taught the colors and blends of gospel music and its musical expressions using elements of phrasing, timber, dynamics, emotions, tempo and instrumentation, according to a press release.


This festival is not as rare as eclipse totality, but the audience will hear different musical styles converge inside the Strand Theatre.

"Classical music merged with gospel music at the highest level," Criss said.

"That's a convergence just like the Convergence concert (Convergence 2024: An Eclipse Performance) we had here in Plattsburgh last week. Those styles will converge, so people will be amazed. Not as amazed as I was when I saw that total eclipse. I knew it was going to be amazing, but all I could say was wow. So, I think that's what people will take away from this, the artistry of Dr. Wise as a director, the artistry of David Powell, who is one of Dr. Wise's pianists that he works with. Dr. Wise asked if we could bring him in as well. That's going to be someone who is classically trained and can play gospel and can play jazz and do all that stuff. That Steinway, I think it's a Steinway that they have at the Strand, it's going to make some sounds folks never heard."

Talented local musicians comprise the Chamber Orchestra.

"To have a chamber orchestra with about 20 members, to have about 100 voices," Criss said.

"We have right at 50 high school students. We have about 40 Plattsburgh State Gospel Choir members. We have 10 members from Montreal Steppers, who all sing. So that's going to be 100 singers, with the orchestra, that's 120 artists. That's just going to be amazing. People will experience the fullness of such a large chorus something we all haven't really seen since COVID."

It's been five fateful years since the last festival concert, though there were attempts in 2021 and 2023 to relaunch the festival.

"When we did the inaugural and it was so successful, we thought, hey we'll do it every two years," Criss said.

"Here it is five years later, and I think everyone agrees that this should be every five years. So just like that eclipse, it's going to be rare. If someone expecting to see this again within the next two or three years, no, it's not going to happen until 2029. That's when the next one will be. So, people need to really not pass this up. Just like some people stayed in the house and didn't watch the eclipse, they don't need to do that. If that's what they did, don't do that twice. Don't let somebody else tell you how this music converged, and people were wowed."

Andrea Ogle is the co-founder of the Adirondack High School Honors Choir, associate artistic director of the SUNY Plattsburgh Gospel Choir, associate director of the Lake Champlain Mass Choir. In addition to co-coordinating the event, Ogle will work with the choirs during sectionals.


The DRC-ADR/HSHGF choir will perform 10 compositions/orchestral arrangements all supported by a professional Adirondack Chamber Orchestra under Jennifer Moore's artistic leadership.

"For me, this festival is an essential part of our student's broader educational experience; one that can help prepare young people for entering a world in which joy-filled and difficult narratives are not only talked about, but felt through direct experience; in this case, through music," Moore, co-founder of the Adirondack High School Honors Choir, choral director of Willsboro Central School, and choral director of Champlain Valley Voices, said.

"For the past 15 years, I've had the opportunity to bring students to the Ithaca College and PSU High School Gospel Choir Festivals. I've seen the social, emotional, cultural, musical, and intellectual growth of our students awaken from the inside-out because that's how music works, and while music may inherently be within each of us, it takes a special kind of teacher to help cultivate the skills needed to express music effectively while enjoying the labor of practice. Having the opportunity to experience Gospel music — in all of its many genres — with Dr. Wise. Mr. Powell, and Dr. Criss, in such a welcoming and supportive environment is beyond thrilling! There is no barrier to authenticity and with that comes joy and the power of music to change each of us.


The vision of the Dalton Rashad Criss Adirondack High School Honors Gospel Festival is to expose regional talented high school students to the harmonies and artistry of gospel music. This event allows students to explore their own personal unique artistic experiences and gives license to celebrate with others through movement, harmonies and the musicianship of gospel music.

Dalton Rashad Criss, a Peru Central School student and festival favorite, played the upright bass in the 2019 festival. He passed away, unexpectedly, a few months later and thus the festival committee decided to name future festivals in his honor.

"Dalton's charismatic personality was infectious, not because I'm Dalton's father, but it was obvious from my position as the artistic director for the choir and watching Dalton interact with the chamber orchestra," Criss said.

"Most of the chamber orchestra members were not high school students. The way it was set up at that time, not so much now, there would be at least one professional person on an instrument, and they would have one or two students who they were mentoring."

A prepared Dalton took the festival very seriously, but at the same time he was a big crackup.

"He just laughs at everything," Criss said.

"He cheers everybody up. It can be very serious stuff happening, and Dalton found a way to say, 'Hey, let's lighten up. Let's have a good time.' He always had great music, but he just had that way about him. Dalton definitely, obviously, was a leader with the students just like he was on the football field and in wrestling. He was just a little leader, so the committee agreed graciously that we should name this after Dalton."

The eight high schools that are participating are Bouquet Valley, Middlebury, Vt.; Montpelier, Vt.; Moriah, Peru, Saranac Lake, Seton Catholic, Willsboro, as well as Ithaca College High School Gospel Choir Festival Alumni and members of the Montreal Steppers.