ASU Gospel Choir: a place of diversity and inclusion

Photo+courtesy+Shannon+Alsobrooks.

Photo courtesy Shannon Alsobrooks.

Molly Flinchum

Keith McCutchen, advisor of the Appalachian Gospel Choir, has been a faculty member of Hayes School of Music for four years with the choral department.

The gospel choir has been a haven for students of color to sing and worship in a style similar to the one they had back at home, McCutchen said. Though the music is always in a continuation of change, it offers a familiarity within its style and culture.

The choir was started by an Appalachian State student in 1974, McCutchen said, and the time period it was started in is interesting because of the state of race relations.

“The choir wasn’t in the school of music as it is now,” McCutchen said. “It existed under multicultural affairs as just a student organization first before it was under any official university entity.”

“I think in terms of the singing that the music either reflected things they did sing at home and were familiar with, or this new possibility within gospel music in which it is totally different than what their parents and the old folks sang at home,” McCutchen said.

The style of gospel music is changing in 10 year increments, McCutchen said. Those changes are usually seen in the instruments being used as well as vocal delivery. The choir currently sings in unison, where in years past the choir would have a variation of harmonies to reflect the way gospel music was being done at the time.

There are now around 15 to 20 students who are involved with the choir, whether it be for its religious aspect or the tradition of the music. The club participates in different expos the university hosts, and it engages in civic activities with various churches in Boone. They also host workshops for the community to participate in.

“The principals of the Gospel, the principals of Jesus that people seek to live out … Those are kind of highlighted in the music,” McCutchen said. “It’s a class for anyone. It offers the opportunity to sing within a style and culture of a tradition, and a tradition that’s offered so much to American music and American culture.”

McCutchen said the club is a win-win in that it is an open class that also has a cultural dynamic within the university.

Roy Cox, freshman political science major, said that he enjoys the family-like community he found within the choir as well as its diversity.

“It’s not just one ethnicity, we have different ethnicities so you have a wide range of songs you can sing,” Cox said. “We are not just all one race singing one type of music, we are very inclusive.”

Cox also said that he doesn’t feel pressured by his commitment to the choir. He said that people come when they can within their busy schedules and learn the music, and the other members will love and support each other.

“Another thing I like is that it’s cool to just end your day by just singing praise to God,” Cox said.

Shannon Alsobrooks, a junior psychology major, is the current president of the gospel choir. She joined the choir during her first semester as a freshman after participating in a gospel choir workshop.

“I have been singing in choirs since I was around the age of six,” Alsobrooks said. “I enjoy the choir because I have always been involved in choirs at my church back in Maryland. The choir has in a way been my home away from home.”

Alsobrooks said that the choir was important to Appalachian State because it offers a place to anyone who is interested in any aspect of gospel music, instrumentally or vocally. She said that the group is supportive and helps individuals step out of their comfort zones in order to grow.

“Gospel choir is different from other choirs because gospel choir is the one place where you can sing and never be afraid to be yourself,” Alsobrooks said.

Appalachian Gospel Choir will be performing with the jazz vocal ensemble on April 22 at 8 p.m. The performance will include guest vocalist Nicci Canada, a jazz and gospel artist from Charlotte, North Carolina. McCutchen said that during this event, the musicians will be incorporating some of Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches and reflecting on the racial tensions and violence that has happened in the past few years.

The gospel choir meets in room 214 of Hayes School of Music on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6 p.m.

By: Molly Flinchum, A&E Reporter