Gospel Choir will bring interactive style to Spaulding

by Hallie Huffaker | 5/20/15 6:01pm

This Saturday, the Dartmouth Gospel Choir will take the Spaulding Auditorium stage for its only concert this term, performing more than 10 songs. Highlights among the various pieces slated for the performance include a call-and-response rendition of the Lord’s Prayer and a cover of “Glory,” the Academy Award-winning track from the film “Selma” (2014), according to performers interviewed.

Walt Cunningham, the group’s director, said that he looks forward to ushering in Memorial Day with the group’s music, as he has never directed a performance on a holiday weekend in his 10 years directing the Gospel Choir. As is standard in the Choir’s performances, efforts will be made to get attendees up and moving during the show and to encourage audience participation, Cunningham said.

“I encourage people to stand up, clap, dance and sway to the music,” he said. “Sometimes I even encourage them to talk back to the choir.”

One of the College’s larger performing groups, the Gospel Choir counts over 50 students and community members among its performers and boasts a wide repertoire of music ranging from traditional gospel standards to pieces Cunningham called “new school.” Despite its large size and mix of ages, many performers interviewed about the upcoming show praised the group’s close-knit nature — and its joyful performance and rehearsal styles.

“I always feel so refreshed after rehearsals,” Nushy Golriz ’15, an alto in the choir, said. “I’ve never felt so happy as I have after coming out from singing.”

Chad Piersma ’13, a baritone, echoed Golriz’s sentiments, adding that he also enjoyed the spontaneity of the group’s performances.

“No matter how bad of a day I had, I always look forward to rehearsal so I can end my day on a good note,” Piersma said. “It is the most stress-free, uplifting environment where you can really be yourself.”

Both Cunningham and students interviewed said they appreciated the diverse mix of age groups and spiritual and ethnic backgrounds in the choir. Although the group tends to sing songs based on Christian tenets common to traditional gospel music, Cunningham said he also attempts to walk a fine line between staying true to traditional gospel style and recognizing the diversity of beliefs at the College.

“I tend to pick messaging that is universally agreed upon,” Cunningham said. “We focus on themes like helping each other out, supporting each other and making the world a better place.”

Piersma, who has been in the group for six years, said that he is particularly excited for the group’s rendition of the Lord’s Prayer. Although the choir has prepared the piece’s call-and-response components, he said there is always some spontaneity involved in performances.

“We have some moments that are decided by [Cunningham],” Piersma said.

In addition to preparing for its upcoming performance, the group has also worked to honor its seniors as the spring quarter draws to a close. Margaret Fiertz ’15, an alto who has been involved with the group since her freshman year, said that Cunningham has specifically worked to remind seniors that they will not leave the group permanently after graduation, noting that he always welcomes alumni to sing with the choir whenever possible.

“This week [Cunningham] had all the seniors come up and talk about their experience,” she said. “Afterwards he said to us, ‘This is never the end.’”

In the fall, the Choir modified its traditional performance to include two other musical groups — the Dartmouth Rockapellas and the Dartmouth Glee Club — for a performance titled “Dartmouth Sings!” At the time, Cunningham emphasized a goal of encouraging learning about diversity through collaboration.

The Dartmouth Gospel Choir will perform this Saturday at 2 p.m. in Spaulding Auditorium. Tickets range from $10 to $15.

Advertise your student group in The Dartmouth for free!