By Kendra Johnson, Arts Editor
One of Oklahoma Baptist University’s newest musical ensembles is the OBU Gospel Choir.
Born in 2017, the Gospel Choir will host its third annual Gospel Fest 3:00-4:30 p.m. February 24 in Raley Chapel’s Potter Auditorium.
“Gospel Fest is a concert here on campus put on by OBU’s gospel choir in conjunction with other church choirs from the greater Shawnee community,” sophomore music education major Makalah Jessup said. “It is free and open to the public, everyone is welcome to come!”
The event will naturally feature only gospel music, an emphasis that makes it unique from other campus music events.
“Gospel Fest is different from other music events on campus because for one, it’s nothing but great gospel music,” Jessup said. “It’s not professional, like a UCS event. It’s not formal like other choir concerts, it’s a laid-back worship session with churches from the community.”
The performance features both OBU groups and church groups, including the OBU Gospel Choir, 519 Collective and the Union Missionary Baptist Church Gospel Choir.
“All the church choirs are volunteer,” assistant professor of instrumental music and faculty sponsor of the OBU Gospel Choir Justin Pierce said. “The OBU gospel choir is a student organization. It’s volunteer,”
The performance is specifically held in February every year, as a celebration of African American musical Heritage.
“I think this is just generally a great celebration of African American Black History Month,” Pierce said.
The OBU Gospel Choir, which hosts the event, grew out of a specific effort to celebrate and encourage diversity on campus.
“Originally it started after the Black Student Association was chartered as a student organization in 2017 around the same time,” junior finance major Grant Fisher said.
The musical style differs from what most OBU students are used to hearing and singing.
“Gospel music itself is a different and unique approach to worshipping God that many OBU students haven’t experienced,” Fisher said.
“Gospel music is a refreshing contrast to the norm here and it’s a lot of fun to sing too,” she said.
While different from most modern church music, gospel music helped lay the foundation for modern popular music.
“Gospel music has a rich heritage that is the basis for a lot of other music in America: rock, pop, jazz,” Pierce said. “It all wouldn’t really be possible, I think, without gospel music.”
The event’s inclusive nature allows students from across campus and community members to come together and celebrate Christ through a worship experience.
“A few of the best parts includes visually seeing and hearing the diversity of the campus grow,” Fisher said. “Students each come from different backgrounds and styles of singing, but we all manage to come toward and sing songs for our God and praise his name.”
Both Fisher and Jessup said they enjoy their involvement with Gospel Fest.
“I’m looking forward to praising God with our community, ranging from students to locals,” Fisher said. “The choir is also working hard to learn some new songs for this year’s festival.”
Preparing the music is one of the challenges the Gospel Fest presents to OBU students.
“Some songs are really tricky but with enough time, we usually get them down,” Jessup said.
One of the aspects that makes preparing the music difficult is the Gospel Choir’s rehearsal schedule.
“While our once a week rehearsal is really convenient, for Gospel Fest to be as great of a concert as we want it to be, we have to put in a little extra work in learning things for ourselves so that rehearsals run smoothly,” Jessup said.
However, the single rehearsal, and the group’s non-auditioned and friendly atmosphere make it a welcoming organization to students from other majors who might not otherwise have the time to commit to a musical group on campus.
“I’ll definitely recommend any and everyone to join!” Fisher said. “It’s not hard. There’s no questionnaires or forms! Just show up and praise God.”
Jessup and Fisher both joined the Gospel Choir its first year, in 2017.
“I was intrigued by the idea of being a part of a different and unique choir to the OBU student body,” he said.
However, it’s the atmosphere that seems to keep students coming back.
“We come together once a week to joke around, have fun, and ultimately make beautiful music for God,” said Jessup. “We pray for each other and love each other, it’s truly an amazing community on campus.”
For the students, Gospel Fest is about their love of music and of the people they work with.
“Gospel Fest is a labor of love,” Jessup said. “It is hard work, but fun work, on the part of every single member and our director. We put a lot of time and effort into making good music and something we hope is fun for everyone who comes.”