Art and worship have a lot of similarities. Whether in antique halls full of echoing organs or in small residential get-togethers with songs by the hearth, there is an innate, subconscious feeling that you are where you need to be.
The JHU Gospel Choir knows a lot about harmony, both in and out of practice. When I sat down to discuss the club with publicity chair Bethy Belai, she told me of her spiritual feelings about music.
“Something that I love about music is that it’s a universal language,” Belai said in an interview with The News-Letter. “It’s something that all people can share.”
When discussing the club, I noticed this love of music shone through in her words. Her own personal music journey wasn’t solely driven by ambition. She was also influenced by her comfort and love for the people within the community. She told me how she started in orchestra in fourth grade, playing violin. It was difficult for her in the beginning, but she continued until her senior year.
“I didn't think it would last. There were so many times I wanted to quit in the beginning. I probably didn’t get everything down until two years later ... sometimes it just takes time,” she said. “A lot of my best memories, especially in high school, were because of orchestra.”
Belai was also involved in the worship team at her church, which led her to become interested in the Gospel Choir at JHU. She stressed that while classical music like hymns are important to worship, Contemporary Christian Music (commonly called CCM) is important to maintaining relevance and building a larger community. The club mainly focuses on CCM, performing songs such as “Olorun Agbaye - You Are Mighty” by Nathaniel Bassey and Chandler Moor, “Jireh” by Maverick City Music and “Withholding Nothing” by William McDowell.
A community-centered approach to art is nothing new, and it's what makes student art groups so special. When I asked Belai about the wider Hopkins art community, she told me her time on the Executive Board had really opened her eyes to the many opportunities for collaboration.
“Now that I've been on E-Board, there's been more people that have reached out to us being like, ‘hey, do you want to collab?’” Belai commented. “They also ask if we ever need help with anything. I've seen people who are willing to collaborate more and help each other out, even though we're all busy people.”
This is something that many people worry about. If everyone’s busy at Hopkins, how can any time be made for the arts? The thing is, just as with worship, there is nothing in the daily life of a Hopkins student which can really substitute for a musical community. Belai flipped this mentality around, telling me of the benefits Gospel Choir rehearsals have brought to her mental health.
“It's so beautiful to see God work through everyone, and everyone leaves, always, with more joy, just feeling more renewed after the craziness of the week. It’s our time to be together, sing together and worship together,” she said.
The group also makes sure to hang out together after rehearsals two to three times per semester, such as going to karaoke nights at the Lab.
In a campus crowded with a capella groups, what makes the Gospel Choir unique is the spiritual element of worship, which is what attracted the 40 current members of the choir. Also unlike the a cappella groups, the choir sings along with a full band of piano, drums and bass guitar. Though the church band of their particular venue will play the instrumentals during their performances, members of the choir have backgrounds in different instruments and will often play during rehearsal.
Despite the large size of the group, Belai made sure to mention that they still accept new members. The group is non-denominational, meaning all are welcome, even if your beliefs do not match with every single member of the club. They rehearse in Shafer Hall, room 302 every Friday.
“We actually don’t require auditions, so anyone can join. But once you join, we do track attendance,” Belai said.
They have two main performances every school year, one on Dec. 2 full of Christmas tunes, and one near Easter, both held at St. Moses Church in Waverly. They also perform at the culture show in the spring, as well as other student events. To find out more about the JHU Gospel Choir visit their instagram at @jhu_gospel_choir.