As a gentle piano riff cutinto the silence, Michael Belcher, director of the Phillips Academy Gospel Choir, assigned each audience member a vocal part to the piece “He Has Done Marvelous Things.” This past Wednesday, the Gospel Choir performed their first ever solo concert in the Timken Room. The eleven members and Belcher, who is also their pianist, sang a total of 8 songs.
Adaeze Izuegbunam ’20, an audience member, said, “I liked getting to interact with the performers when [Belcher] had everyone split up into sopranos, altos, and tenors, and we got to stand up, sway, sing along, and interact not only with the music but the others around us too.”
Belcher believes that Gospel Music is inherently communal, with elements that can speak to anybody, not just persons of faith.
“Gospel Music is attractivebecause you’re really singing the message of Jesus Christ, and we are attracted to both the art form as well as the message, so we just enjoy the people. It doesn’t matter what faith, what singing ability, it’s just a very accessible genre of music with so much variety and I think there’s a little something for everyone,” said Belcher.
Gospel music has its roots and influences in the church. Inviting the audience to sing was a form of this message, according to performer Laura Mahaniah ’20.
“Since gospel music obviously comes from the church, it’s that whole idea of the congregation and the choir everybody knows each other, and works together, andis working toward one goal, so I think that is where the connection with the audience came from,” said Mahaniah.
Gospel music allows each person to interact with it differently, and to draw their own meanings from the music. Izuegbunam feels that this aspect of the music is what allows it to create its sense of shared community.
“If you look at what is considered more protestant churches or especially churches that are mainly black, there’s so much of that community presenting itself in Gospel music, and I definitely think that so much of it is because of the fact that it isn’t someone telling you something,” said Izuegbunam.
“Gospel choir is more of a community than a performing group, so, we perform about once a month, but when we rehearse it’s not necessarily for something. We find songs we like, we learn them, and we sing. So, since there is not this strict expectation, we’re really relaxed and we don’t find any difficulties with that,” said Mahaniah.