Gospel Choir performed mix of songs on Saturday

by Amelia Rosch | 11/15/15 6:15pm

The Dartmouth College Gospel Choir took on a cloudy day and cold weather to bring together a mix of classical and traditional gospel music to help uplift their audience and bring a message of joy and inspiration to the College at its annual fall concert.

Anna Driscoll ’16, a soprano in the gospel choir, said that the concert included a mix of a cappella songs, bilingual songs and medleys. She said that most of the songs that the choir sang were choir’s director Walt Cunningham’s original arrangements of traditional songs.

Emma Hartswick ’17, an alto in the choir who has been a member since her freshman fall, said that Cunningham teaches through rote instead of the more traditional method of using sheet music.

Some of the songs that the gospel choir sang included Milton Brunson’s “Over and Over and Over” (1986) and “There is No Failure in God” (1989), Ricky Dillard’s “There is No Way” (2004), the choir’s cover of “America the Beautiful” (1895) and a medley of songs by American gospel musician Kirk Franklin, as well as some original songs by Walt Cunningham.

Hartswick said that this term’s concert was fairly typical in terms of the type of music the choir performed.

“A lot of our music was faith based — not necessarily of one denomination, but about empowerment,” Hartswick said. “It’s about empowering people, giving them hope.”

Rebecca Maria Mari, an exchange student from Italy who is currently a soprano in the choir, said that she enjoyed all of the songs.

She said, however, that her favorite song to perform was the choir’s cover of the traditional gospel song “Hallelujah” because of the challenges that it provided.

“It was the song that gave me the most satisfaction,” Mari said. “It was the most difficult to sing. We didn’t do anything wrong. Everything worked perfectly and was completely right.”

Hartswick said that her favorite song was “There is No Failure” because of its message and its music. She said that she loved the song’s melody and the solo featured in the song.

“It’s such a great message,” she said. “It’s saying there is no way to fail. Singing that song, it’s great with a group that you really care about.”

Driscoll said that she felt like the choir was able to create a sense of spontaneous joy in the theater through the music. She said that she feels that Cunningham’s enthusiasm plays a role in the audience’s excitement.

“I love the audience participation at our concerts,” Driscoll said. “[Cunningham] gets the crowd on their feet right away, clapping, swaying along and even singing with us, and people respond really well to that and look like they’re having as much fun as we are.”

Mari, who had never sung in a gospel choir prior to this term, said that she also thought that Cunningham did a good job preparing the group for the concert.

“It was my first show in front of a big audience, and at first I was a little bit scared,” she said. “He did a fantastic job of helping us. We just had to learn it, sing what we learned and have a good time.”

Driscoll said that the choir had weekly group-wide rehearsals throughout the term, as well as weekly sectional rehearsals organized by vocal part in the weeks leading up to the performance. She said that the group also had a pre-performance rehearsal to practice with their band. The gospel choir traditionally performs with a 12-piece band.

Mari said that she appreciated the rehearsals because of the opportunity they gave her to track her progress.

“We really did improve day by day,” she said. “By the time of the show, we really knew every part of each song, every variation. We got so good at the songs that we did not have to think a lot about it. We were singing spontaneously.”

Hartswick said that unlike in past years, the gospel choir saw a larger amount of community participation. She said that she feels like while the gospel choir is technically a student-based group, it is an equal partnership between the student members, community members and Cunningham.

“They are a great addition to us with both their voices and their knowledge,” Hartwsick said. “We are a community in ourselves. We all work together.”

The choir, which is one of the College’s largest performing groups, has over 40 students and community members in it. Cunningham has been working at the College for over a decade and is also in charge of producing the annual “Dartmouth Idol” contest each winter. He also works with the Chicago-based band “One Accord.”

The concert was on Saturday at 2 p.m. in Spaulding Auditorium.