ROME - "They cut me down and I leapt up high! ... 'I am the Lord of the dance!' said he."

A large church choir sings out the joyful words. Behind the singers hangs a lighted picture of "The Last Supper." Beside them a pianist accompanies their voices, and in front a director leads them through their notes.

They're all practicing for a Palm Sunday cantata. But this musical program is unique.

Because, as they sing about leaping and dancing, between the stage and pews several girls do indeed leap and dance to the message.

A choir of more than 30 singers from not just one church, but four - the Rome Presbyterian, Rome United Methodist, North Orwell and West Warren First Congregational - is preparing for "I Am the Lord of the Dance," set for 4 p.m. Sunday in the Presbyterian Church. And besides the choral music, the program includes dancing by some area performers.

"It's been fun!" director Susie Boardman says at the practice. Most of these churches combine for Lenten services, and together they hosted a live Nativity at Christmas, but this is the first time in 10 years they've done a cantata together.

"I think everybody enjoys singing with a big group," she adds. Her goal is to present the Easter message through the music.

Pianist is Marilyn Brainard, and narrator is Ed O'Connor.

Donations given at the cantata will benefit Hezekiah's Hands, a local home-repair ministry.

Written by Joel Raney, the program's based on the hymn "Lord of the Dance," which in turn describes Jesus' life in dancing terms. For example, it contains phrases like: "I danced in the morning when the world was begun, and I danced in the moon and the stars and the sun," "I danced on the Sabbath and I cured the lame," "I danced on a Friday when the sky turned black," and "'I'll lead you all in the Dance,' said he." The cantata includes readings and songs based on the hymn.

According to Raney's comments in the songbook, the cantata shows "each verse individually in a dramatic colorful presentation - all retelling the story from John 3:16: 'For God so loved the world that he gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.'"

Enter the dancers. They'll perform to certain songs, individually and as a group, as the choir sings.

"I think the whole thing's great!" dancer Jenna Saxe says. While the singers rehearse up front, she and the other dancers practice in the back. Surrounded by shiny wooden church doors and stained glass of red, yellow and white, they spin, lift their arms, go down on bended knee. "The Lord is my light," read words on a banner painted on a window.

Emily Soden leads the girls. This is a different type of performance for her, she admits. But the dancers are experienced. It should be "easy from our standpoint," she says.

Emily's dancers are: Ashlynn Beckwith, Katelyn Boardman, Brittany Matoushek, Kaitlyn West and Jenna.

The practice goes on. Voices harmonize in rich color, like wildflowers in a summer field.

"My great Redeemer, my Savior art thou ... if ever I loved thee, my Jeeeesus," the choir sings, drawing out the name ... "'Tis now."

Susie stops them. "Let's start there where everybody comes in."

The program includes a separate number, "Lonesome Valley," which features a solo by Rev. Karen Ballard - and some special "trudging along the valley" effects.

So everyone's getting ready to dance - in body, in voice and mostly likely ... in heart.

The singers near the end of their practice. ...

"'And I'll lead you all wherever you may be, and I'll lead you all in the Dance,' said he."