|Calvin Gospel Choir Releases New CD
September 25, 2007
The Gospel Choir at Calvin College is releasing Then Sings My Soul!, a CD celebrating 10 years of live performances. The collection, funded by the Calvin music department, will be available through the Calvin Campus Store.
Then Sings My Soul!, is a compilation of 23 songs from concerts the choir has performed in a decade of tours to everywhere from Oshkosh to Philadelphia and California to Ghana.
“Usually a choir goes on tour and then records the tour. I didn’t want to do that,” said Calvin music professor Charsie Randolph Sawyer, the director of the Gospel Choir. “I wanted to make it a celebration of 10 years of various participants through the years."
The music on the CD is as wide-ranging as the choir is, combining spirituals, African music and anthems with both contemporary and traditional gospel songs. The collection even includes a rendition of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, accompanied by the Calvin orchestra.
“I like the choir to be versatile,” said Sawyer.
At 120 voices, the Gospel Choir is the largest student choral ensemble at Calvin. The choir is also inclusive, welcoming the handful of faculty and staff members who want to join.
“It’s a come-as-you-are choir,” said Sawyer. “You don’t have to audition.”
The Gospel Choir had its origins in the 1980s as a student organization. Sawyer became its conductor in 1996, when she came to Calvin from teaching in Omaha, Nebraska. However, though she holds the baton, the choir is still partially administered by a steering committee.
“I love for them to have ownership because it’s still their choir,” she said, “and if I have a student who I feel is an absolutely wonderful conductor, I let them conduct.”
Most remarkable about the Gospel Choir, she insisted, is the sense of community that is created as the group rehearses and performs together.
“What makes a choir a unit is they get to sing as one,” Sawyer said. “And at the end of every rehearsal, we gather in a circle, and they give praise reports and pray for concerns. It’s a church service. That’s what I think is so amazing.”
Travel strengthens the bonds within the choir, she said. The group has sung in places as different as the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California and the churches in Ghana.
“We will never forget the slave castles of Ghana,” Sawyer said of that tour.
While on tour, the choir often meets up with alumni who want to reconnect with the group.
“In California on tour last spring break, we saw students who were in the Gospel Choir 10 years ago who were still talking about how much it meant to them,” Sawyer said.
She also received e-mails from alumni expressing their gratitude for their time with their choir experience. The history of the choir has featured another kind of love connection as well.
“We’ve had a lot of matches made in heaven through the choir,” said Sawyer!
Pictures of various tour locations and of many of the sopranos, altos, tenors and basses who sang in the Gospel Choir since 1996 decorate the booklet accompanying Then Sings My Soul.
“You see not only the choir singing, but also having fun,” Sawyer said.
Listed inside the booklet are all 800 names of the choir members from those years -- an editorial decision on which Sawyer insisted.
“They are just a wonderful group of students who love to sing and worship,” she said. “I am so grateful that I’m the director of the gospel choir.”
~both stories written by Calvin staff writer Myrna Anderson
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