BYU gospel choir sings testimonies with ‘soul’

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Students in the BYU Gospel Choir hope to share their testimonies by praising and worshiping God through gospel music in performances this week.

In years past, the Black Student Union has asked volunteer students to practice and rehearse before singing at the Martin Luther King Jr. Walk of Life commemoration. This year the Black Student Union took a different direction and asked freshman Andra Johnson, from Texas, to start a gospel choir.

Johnson is studying music education and is in the BYU Men’s Choir. He was raised with a strong Baptist background. His family attended a Baptist church every Sunday, where he developed a love for gospel music.

BYU's Gospel Choir performed for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The choice continues to grow and develop. (Andra Johnson)
BYU’s Gospel Choir performed for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The choir continues to grow and develop. (Andra Johnson)

“I was the piano boy, the choir boy and the organist,” he said.

Johnson allowed two missionaries into his home four years ago. He became the only member of his family to join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“I want to show Mormons that gospel music is church music and that you can feel the spirit through the songs,” Johnson said. “Some songs are sacrament appropriate and some aren’t, but they all are ways to praise God.”

Johnson promoted the group by talking to friends and fellow students in Men’s and Women’s Chorus. He said he wanted the singers to understand the music and the history behind each song. Johnson selects songs he feels are appropriate for the occasion.

His ultimate goal for music selection is to show all audiences that the Spirit can be felt when they listen to and sing uplifting and upbeat gospel hymns. His song selections for the Martin Luther King Jr. commemoration were traditional black songs that had power in the lyrics.

“Leading this choir has given me a sense of leadership,” Johnson said. “It has put me in a position where I can teach what I know and love what I teach. I wouldn’t have been able to have this experience elsewhere.”

Choir member Ali Stebar said singing gospel music reminded her of home. In high school Stebar was invited to sing in a gospel choir. She said gospel music has always come naturally.

“I love being able to sing and express the way I feel through the music,” Stebar said. “I feel that gospel music is another way to worship God and an exciting way to show my love for the Savior.”

Stebar said joining the choir has given her more motivation in school. “I missed gospel choir and cultural diversity. I was brought back to my senses and given re-motivation to be happy here,” Stebar said. She also said this experience has enhanced and broadened her view of worshiping God.

The choir currently consists of 23 members, four of whom are men. Nathanael Byrd, a freshman from Michigan, is in the presidency for the Black Student Union at BYU. Byrd said participating in the choir has formed unity within the group.

“Being a minority here at BYU can be tough, but joining the choir helped me relate to BYU and feel more a part of the school,” Byrd said.

The gospel choir has two upcoming performances in February. The first performance, “Perspectives,” will be held on campus in Room 3220 of the Wilkinson Student Center on Feb. 27 at 7 p.m.

The second performance will be held in Salt Lake City for the LDS Genesis Group — a group of black Latter-day Saint members — Feb. 28 at 7 p.m.

Choir members will sing different arrangements that reflect their testimonies. Johnson said there will be several nonmembers at the Genesis performance and that the choir can be a platform for missionary work.

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