In the Myers Fine Arts Building, sophomore Michael Hudlin drums a beat on the lid of an old grand piano. More than 30 students and Plattsburgh community members from the Plattsburgh State Gospel Choir sway to the cadence, rehearsing for the university’s 27th annual GospelFest tomorrow.
As a gospel song with a pinch of calypso, Hudlin is directing “Sayamanda” by Trinidad and Tobago musician Andre Tanker for this year’s performance.
“This song is a story,” Hudlin said as he walked the choir through their choreography.
Along with a performance from PSUC’s praise team, step team and praise dancers, the gospel choir will also be singing with the Voices of Victory Gospel Choir from SUNY Potsdam from 6 to 8 p.m. tomorrow night.
“I grew up in church, and I grew up singing in church,” said Christina Bastien, junior biomedical sciences major and head of public relations for the choir. “This was just something I wanted to do.”
When professor Dexter Criss isn’t teaching organic chemistry, he is the Gospel Choir’s music and artistic director, along with choir director and PSUC alumna Andrea Ogle.
During rehearsals, Criss and Ogle encourage the choir to practice the way they perform and work together to create soulful music for the audience.
“We must sing together, and we must dance together,” Ogle said to the choir as they worked on their number.
Members of the choir’s executive board members admire Criss and Ogle not only for their instruction, but for their personalities.
“All of us are friends outside of choir, even with Dexter and Andrea,” said Abayomi Edwards-Dyer, junior Spanish and Latin American studies major and Gospel Choir social chair. “What separates choir from a lot of other activities on campus [is] the bond we have with our instructors.”
Freshman criminal justice and sociology major Dominique Burke joined the choir last semester and sits on the executive board as vice president.
“The passion that [the instructors] bring is the passion they ignite in the rest of the choir,” Burke said, despite a hectic rehearsal schedule. “That’s what turned us into a real family, and that’s why we love it so much.”
Bastien has performed in last year’s GospelFest and remembers the performance’s feeling.
“[In] any practice, we’re just trying to get the notes together, but the day of, everybody is out doing their thing and just laughing,” Bastien said. “It’s a lot of fun. It’s like you’re in church again.”
Burke expressed his love and passion for gospel music and his excitement for his first GospelFest.
“We’ve worked so hard, and when the moment finally comes, it’s like ‘Alright, it’s time,’” Burke said.
The Gospel Choir will sing works by Mississippi Mass, Beyonce, Mary Mary, Vincent Bohanan, Raymond Wise and Yolanda Adams. Student tickets are $8 online and $10 at the door, while general admission tickets are $15 and $20 at the door in Giltz Auditorium in Hawkins Hall.
The choir’s second major event of the year is when they host “A Soulful Christmas Celebration,” but Edwards-Dyer said GospelFest is the choir’s most exciting out of the two.
“[It’s about] the anticipation and the expectation,” Edwards-Dyer said. “We wait for GospelFest.”
Burke’s favorite number to perform in this year’s GospelFest is “Sound of Victory” by Vincent Bohenan and The Sound of Victory Fellowship Choir.
“You’re singing, and then people are dancing, clapping, screaming,” Burke said. “You can’t really explain what you feel in the moment of that song. That’s how powerful it is.”
Senior biology major and president of the Gospel Choir, Luis Popoca, feels bittersweet about performing in his last GospelFest.
“Saying goodbye is tough, but I know I’m leaving an amazing group,” Popoca said. “I know [GospelFest] is going to be on campus for a long time.”
Email Emma Vallelunga at firstname.lastname@example.org