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Gospel choir shares cultural tradition this weekend

BY CARLY HURWITZ | DECEMBER 01, 2011 7:20 AM

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The members of the Iowa City Voices of Soul gospel choir challenge the audience members to keep still as they are engulfed in the sound of harmonious voices and rhythmic clapping, drums, piano, and bass evoking the rich traditions of African-American music that explodes throughout the room.

"Voices of Soul's mission is to share African-American music and culture with others and with the campus by singing, clapping, and praising," said Alexandria Green, the president of the choir.

Voices of Soul will hold its fall concert at 6 p.m. Saturday at the Congregational United Church of Christ, 30 N. Clinton St. Admission is free.

University of Iowa senior Green, who has as been involved in Voices of Soul since her sophomore year, said she simply could not get enough of singing.

"I've been in a gospel choir since I was 9 years old," she said. "When I got here to college, I knew I loved to sing and I loved to sing gospel."

When Voices of Soul began in 1970, La Jeune Wright was the musical director of only seven members. She was inspired to show the need for black gospel music in the Iowa City area, and the group created a show that was a complete package of the music.

For more than 40 years, Voices of Soul has provided the UI and the Iowa City communities with gospel performances. The organization is dedicated to maintaining awareness of the heritage of African-American music.

"It's quite amazing to me that we do have a gospel choir on campus, and we are very diverse," Green said. "[Gospel] is sung more heavily, full of soul, and louder than regular music."

The choir members are an image of the American melting pot — they come from a multitude of backgrounds, including Asian, African American, and white, among others.

"We don't discriminate, and if you can sing, we want you," said UI student Taylor McClendon, the vice president of Voices of Soul.

Gospel comes from the tradition of people using music to express themselves during the time of slavery, he said.

"It is very free-form and soulful, and that soulfulness comes from innovation," he said. "It comes off the top of your head from whatever you feel inside; it is completely innate."

The community has a large role in the musical interpretations of the group. Voices of Soul collaborates with other local musical groups to enhance the diversity of the show.

Alex Lodge, a UI graduate student studying chemistry, is originally from Louisiana, and he joined the choir as soon as he got to Iowa.

"I got involved because I sang in gospel choirs at home, and this was one of the things that helped me transition here," Lodge said. "Everyone [in the group] had a love for music and gospel, which helped me make a [smooth] transition."

Lodge has played in different bands and played many concerts growing up, but he said there is something about gospel music that has a certain soul to it, whether one is religious or not.

"Gospel music connects with anybody on a more personal level than just hearing a concert piece or symphony or something of that nature," he said. "It might not be as musically challenging, but it brings out a more personal and emotional response."

The choir will perform songs from notable artists, including James C. Hall and Hezekiah Walker, as well as original songs from the director of the group, Pastor Cymaron Dawson.

"It is probably one of the more engaging concerts you will go to; we will ask you to stand up and clap with us and sing along," McClendon said. "It is extremely enticing."


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