From Ohio to Overseas, Kent State University Gospel Choir Enjoys a Strong Reputation
The Gospel Choir entertains.
Dr. Linda B. Walker, Kent State professor and gospel choir director says, “The students and other choir members say that on Monday night they can forget about everything – they can forget about work and all their worries.”
Founded in 1996 by Walker, the Kent State Gospel Choir has earned an excellent local, regional, national and international reputation. While members might vary each semester, Walker’s consistent values and expectations help the choir uphold its reputation.
As a child in Jackson, Miss., Walker grew up with a love for music that she inherited from her father.
“My father is the reason why I developed an interest in music,” she says. “He was not an educated man, but he knew music, and I learned at his knee.”
Walker performed in bands and choirs and even participated in her church's gospel choir – a family tradition. In 1990, she came to Kent State and received a culture shock.
“I came to Kent State in 1990 and, from 1990 until 1996, I didn’t hear a single spiritual performed by a university ensemble,” Walker says. “I think it is part of my responsibility to ensure that this genre of music lives.”
Besides a lack of spirituals, Walker was also concerned about the lack of African-American students participating in university ensembles. She hoped the gospel choir would increase their participation.
Walker submitted a proposal to the director of the School of Music, who not only approved it, but predicted that the Gospel Choir might become one of the most popular university ensembles.
What began as a 40-person class in January of 1997 has now nearly doubled. Today, the choir has 70 members, including Kent State students, faculty, staff and community participants. Individuals can be a part of the choir for as many semesters as they wish.
“When the choir began, it was a pretty diverse group,” Walker says. “But, the diversity increased as word got out and the choir grew. Although the choir has grown in size, I still expect excellence from all its members.”
According to Walker, the diversity of the group benefits all of the choir members as it gives them a chance to interact with individuals different from themselves. Additionally, the students participating in the choir have an opportunity to network with faculty, staff and community members.
Abbey Bolton, principal at Southeast Intermediate School in Portage County and a doctoral candidate in Kent State's College of Education, Health and Human Services has participated in the choir since 2000. She describes the members as her second family.
“I get excited to see my family every Monday,” Bolton says. “I love gospel music, I love the atmosphere and I love Dr. Walker's style of teaching.”
To teach gospel music, Walker uses a “rote” style where she teaches the different sections of the choir their parts by singing and piano accompaniment.
“Although everyone in the choir comes from a different background, they all become equal because nobody has written music,” Walker says.
According to Bolton, the rote style allows all individuals – even those who can't read music – to participate.
The talented group could be heard at its annual holiday concert on Dec. 11 at Kent State. In addition to performing locally, the gospel choir has been invited to perform in an international choir at the Prague Gospel Festival in July 2011.
For Walker, the choir's achievements are owed to the community and God.
“Without the support of the community, we would not have been as successful,” she says. “Above all, it is through God's grace – He has been very good to this choir.”
By Lindsay Kuntzman