"Spiritual, musical connections unite UB's Gospel Choir"

The Spectrum

Dominique Hickson, a sophomore computer engineering major, gave a brief sermon about forgiveness before Thursday's rehearsal.

"You need to be able to forgive, because at the end of the day, you and that person are going to the same place," Hickson said. "You're going to have to encounter them there. It would be so much easier to forgive them here on this earth than struggle with a grudge over the course of your life."

Joining hands and bowing heads, Hickson and her fellow choir members formed a circle to meditate on their thoughts.

Moments later, they stepped into formation to begin warming up. And when the group struck its first note, the silence broke inside 112 Norton Hall. Their voices rang in harmony and filled the lecture hall.

It was a typical rehearsal for UB's Gospel Choir, a Student Association club that has been giving students a place to sing and discuss their religious beliefs since 1977. At practice, choir members were divided based on vocal tone, but that seemed to be the only present division. Their close-knit nature makes rehearsals feel more like family gatherings.

Diane Deroche, a junior nursing major and the group's president, said the choir members have become tight.

"We don't spend every rehearsal singing the entire two hours," Deroche said. "Some rehearsals, we don't sing at all and just hang out together. We have dinner and talk about things outside the choir ... It's really brought everyone together."

Deroche said when she transferred to UB, the choir helped her feel welcome. When Deroche came to the university, her friend introduced her to various clubs on campus, including UB's Gospel Choir.

"I immediately felt comfortable, so I joined and have stayed ever since," Deroche said. "We're all on the same page, all believing in the same thing. Some people have been involved with the club since freshman year, and I see why."

The choir specializes in urban contemporary gospel, which derives from hymns and African-American spirituals characterized by strong vocal harmonies and lyrics used to express Christian beliefs. Members rehearse twice a week and typically perform two concerts per year - one in the winter and one in the spring.

The group uses elements in its songs like repetition and singing in call-and-response. Most of the performances are a cappella, though the choir occasionally includes guitars, pianos or tambourines to provide a beat.

The choir also sings subgenres of gospel music, including Celtic gospel, gospel blues and Southern gospel, based on members' cultural backgrounds, the songs' lyrical content and the music's origins.

After Thursday night's warm-up, senior social sciences major Amanda Lambert led as conductor, shouting to the group: "You should look stupid as you sing - it works. Open your mouth; close your eyes; do what you have to do - y'all will sound better."

As rehearsal slowly came to an end, a few members rushed to leave, nearly having lost track of time. But like music is rooted in religion, the choir members are rooted to their familial group - they'll all be back next week.

The choir's next show is on April 26 at the Newman Center.