Faith is found by singing: Religious a cappella on campus
I keep promising myself I’m never going to start another piece with “Senior year of high school …” again, but, alas, here we are. What can I say? It was formative.
Senior year of high school, during my wild, wild Spring Break, I got a nasal septoplasty — not a nose job, but basically a nose job. I broke my nose in 2012, and for various reasons (mostly my fear of pain and, ironically, painkillers), I decided to be a mouth-breather for four years before getting it fixed. The week following the surgery, my doctor put me on a lot of Vicodin. I mean, a lot. I ended up spending my days with milkshakes, watching “Sing it On” (a docuseries on collegiate a cappella) and carefully blotting the tragedy that was my face. The experience birthed this random, niche love for a cappella in me, and when I was presented with the opportunity to speak with two of the University of Michigan’s groups, I couldn’t help but be reminded of how charming the art form is.
Engrained within their respective faiths (Christianity and Judaism), the Michigan Gospel Chorale and Kol HaKavod work as spaces through which their members can flourish in their beliefs and musicianship.
“The Michigan Gospel Chorale is a student-led organization with the mission of aiding in guaranteeing the recruitment, retention and spiritual growth of its members,” wrote President Ja’naysha Hamilton, Engineering senior, in an email interview with The Daily. “Our goal is for the organization to act as a vehicle to promote unity through programs that encourage musical excellence, spiritual growth, and humanitarian development.”
Kol HaKavod, literally meaning “all the honor” and colloquially used to say, “Good job,” is rooted in Judaism. The coed unit of 11 undergraduates was founded in 1993 and rehearses weekly at Hillel.
“Being in KHK is one of my most important and meaningful college experiences,” wrote LSA senior Hannah Bruder, music director for KHK in an email interview with The Daily. “It has given me a community of friends who are extremely diverse but are similarly passionate about music and singing.”
While KHK is a smaller operation, MGC has four auxiliary groups in addition to the Chorale, which began in 1972. Hands Anointed ‘N’ Divine Signs is a sign language ministry, Images of Praise is a praise dance ministry, The Prophetic Interpreters a mime ministry and Taking Refuge Uttering Spoken Truths is a spoken-word ministry. These offshoots help maintain MGC’s goal of being inclusive of various identities while remaining a Christian organization.
Performing through gospel songs and holding weekly Bible studies (which are open to anyone and everyone), MGC members deeply integrate their faith into every aspect of what they do.
“My favorite part of performing together is when that one person comes up to us at the end (of a show) and says that we really touched them, or that they feel so much more relieved and free after hearing or seeing us perform,” Hamilton wrote. “We do our performances to spread God’s Love, and when people come up to us and say we did exactly that, I feel overjoyed and accomplished.”
Citing Peggy James’s “Bring in Your Glory,” as her favorite song to perform, Hamilton spoke to the value of tradition within the Chorale:
“This is a song that has been sung each year, and every MGC member, past and present, has known or will know this song. It is one that brings us all together as one big family.”
Exuding nothing but warmth, MGC is effervescent and inspired and filled to the brim with pure, unfettered joy. A loving bunch, its members are bound together by their shared convictions and a collective goal. KHK, albeit stemming from another religion, is no different in this regard.
“No matter the level of observance, Judaism is another aspect of our group, in addition to us all loving music and singing, that we all have in common,” Bruder wrote. “Of course, UofM has a prevalent Jewish population, and KHK is one niche-group that can make Michigan’s Jewish community even smaller for people who want to become involved but don’t know where to start.”
Integrating its members own personalities into its collective range, KHK sings American pop songs, in addition to Hebrew and Jewish pop songs.
“Right now, our repertoire includes some Idan Raichel (a popular Israeli artist) songs, as well as ‘Drop the Game’ by Flume and Chet Faker, ‘Sunday Candy’ by Chance the Rapper, and ‘Electric Love’ by Børns,” Bruder wrote. “I love that each semester is different in terms of songs we learn, and the positive messages in all of them reflect who we are as a group.”
KHK is a multifaceted team, including students in engineering; pre-law; the School of Music, Theatre & Dance; pre-med; and pre-social work.
“Each semester brings in new members with completely different backgrounds, and I have enjoyed becoming best friends with a group of people who have various passions but can come together to make good music,” Bruder wrote. “I have always loved a cappella, even before ‘Pitch Perfect,’ and knowing I have a space on campus for a performance outlet has made my Michigan experience so much better.”
Both groups have regular shows, the next one being in December for KHK. It will also be performing this February at the game between the Detroit Pistons and the Portland Trailblazers. MGC regularly holds a benefit concert, a fall concert and a spring concert, all free of charge. Its chief event each year is a Spring Break tour, during which its members minister at various churches and colleges across the nation.
I think a lot of what I found charming about collegiate a cappella — back in those ill-fated, Vicodin-hazed days of senior year — was that everyone involved had an incredible trust in one another. Grounded by their principles, MGC and KHK comprise individuals who have faith — faith in their religions, faith in their talents and faith in one another.
It’s nice to believe in something, whatever or whoever that “something” may be. These religiously driven a cappella groups on campus are such a beautiful example of the overwhelming bliss that comes from simply believing in something. Using their principles to inform their art, the Michigan Gospel Chorale and Kol HaKavod are two — of many — University outlets through which students can stand firm in their convictions while furthering their artistry and deepening their friendships.