Founder, conductor, composer and producer of the Oslo Gospel Choir - Tore Aras - unpacks the remarkable story behind one of the most popular worship groups around...
I stopped running our church choir when our first child was born, but I missed it. So I joined with a friend from the local Pentecostal church - just across the street from my Methodist church - and we decided to start a new choir. Neither of us had much money so we split the cost of advertising an open audition. We expected 30 or 35 but 350 people came along. After two more weekends of auditions we ended up with 17 fantastic singers. My old church choir were never in tune, but these were special. When they sang the sound was heavenly.
We’d put in the advert that the choir would be easy to combine with family life - we would rehearse sparingly and only do a couple of gigs a year. Now, 25 years, 1,000 concerts and 30 cds later, my wife reminds me every week how far we’ve come from that first plan. But she’s happy. We all are.
But we knew that God was working through the choir, even at our second ever concert. It was in a tent in Sweden. We only had ten songs and once we’d done them the band got into the minibus and headed off. The choir was waiting on the coach when the organiser came in saying “you have to sing some more songs, the people aren’t leaving and are calling for more!”
I told him that the band had gone and we had no more songs to do. “Just come and sing something,” he said.
I had no idea what to do, so in my foolishness I said to the crowd “let’s make a song together.” My wife was shaking her head, but we did and got people to repeat what I sang - Shine your light. Today it’s the most well known song, and even then I knew that the Lord had special plans for the choir.
What happened next...
Norway 1988 only had one TV station, so it was very hard to get Christian music played, especially in prime time. But the word got out about the choir and a producer invited us to be the first Christian artist to appear on TV in primetime. We did two songs and were seen by 1.2 million viewers - just under half the entire population.
Then record companies and promoters started calling all the time. It was completely different to what we planned and there really was not much gospel music around back then. But after the TV show we had secular record companies calling and asking for a meeting. I remember meeting with CBS - the biggest one at the time - and they told me that there was just one problem - we had to take away the name of Jesus from the lyrics.
“But we’re singing gospel music,” I said. “If you take Jesus out of it you’ve not got a gospel song any more.”
“Well, we can’t do anything with you if you’re going to keep on singing about Jesus. It’s up to you to decide; take it out and you will sell well, keep it in and you won’t ever sell a single record. You’ll be forgotten.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “But I can’t do it.”
Well, the choir is still alive and CBS went into bankruptcy. We’ve choir sold 2.2million albums in Norway - even more than A-ha. In 2000 we got an award from the biggest newspaper for the being biggest selling artist in the 90s, selling more than Michael Jackson.