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Gospel choir nurtures student voices

Tenor David Vorobyov, a freshman biology major, reviews his part with James Calhoun, director of choral activities, as the Chamber Choir prepares to participate in the Istoria Judia-Law Convivencia Musical last month. The choir performed with the Koi HaEmek Chorale and the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony. The event was a musical celebration of Spanish and Jewish culture and commemoration of the 1492 expulsion of Jews from Spain. / photo by Christian Uriarte

Brian Velez
Staff Writer

Sunlight entered the University of La Verne chapel through its blue and amber windows as the gospel choir, led by Assistant Professor of Music James Calhoun, practiced “My Life, My Love, My All” by Kirk Franklin.

Gospel Choir is a one-unit class offered every semester. Unlike chamber or chorale choir, Gospel Choir requires no audition and people are not cut.

Calhoun works closely with all students in the choir to help them find their sound and bring out the voice they may not know they had.

“Calhoun tells students they have a voice in them, they just don’t know it,” junior liberal studies and sociology major Lynesha Williams said.

Williams, who has participated in school choirs since elementary school, said that after seeing the energy of this group, she decided to join.

The songs from class are spiritually important to Williams but she feels other students can participate and relate to the class.

“I do feel a Jewish and Muslim student can relate, enjoy it and not feel they are contradicting their beliefs,” Williams said.

Along with Williams’ choir background and spiritual interest, she was also drawn by Calhoun’s demeanor and approach to the class.

“I love his personality, it is casual but still professional,” Williams said.

Calhoun said that the gospel choir is a good place to develop values and get students involved in the music department.

Ten students currently participate in the choir but Calhoun hopes to expand the size and popularity of the choir that he said is for any student of any background.

“Some of the songs do mention Jesus, but the songs incorporate principles of any culture whether you are Muslim, Jewish or Hindu,” Calhoun said.

University Chaplain Zandra Wagoner agrees with Calhoun on the gospel choirs ability to nurture cultural principles.

“Gospel music reflects core values, like service,” Wagoner said.

Wagoner said that along with values, participating in the experience of sharing other peoples’ music is good.

The gospel choir has participated in La Verne area performances including ULV baccalaureate service. This performance celebrates the accomplishments of graduate students, open to all faiths and denominations.

For the shows students perform in front of an audience but it is done in a casual learning experience.

“I am taking the class because I love God and I love to sing,” choir member Rochelle Rose said.

Rose participates in the choir because, like Williams, it is a type of music she grew up listening to.

Rose said the class can provide and create music on a campus that may not be aware of gospel music.

Although gospel choir is a class offered for academic credit the choir welcomes students, faculty and staff.

Calhoun encourages people interested in the class to come see them practice. The choir meets every Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. in the chapel.

Brian Velez can be reached at

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