Choir director says gospel is for everyone

Patrick Casey

Gospel music has the power to vitalize, unite and energize students, said the director of the University Gospel Choir.
More than a year after its creation, the choir headed by Sam Davis is preparing for a concert this Sunday. The group will perform African American religious music from the days of slavery to the present.
“We try to do a combination,” Davis said. “We do Negro spirituals, which are the slave plantation songs of the late 1800s, and then we do some contemporary gospel.”
The songs the group performs are about one-third Negro spirituals and two-thirds contemporary gospel. The choir tends to perform spiritual works that are passed on through the oral tradition in the black church, Davis said.
The group will bring its sound on stage this Sunday when it performs a free concert in Ferguson Recital Hall at 6 p.m.
“You can’t not move when you sing this music,” said Jeanne Landkamer of South Minneapolis, who has sung in the choir for one year.
With energy and spirit, members of the choir clap and move with the music as they sing gospel songs such as “God Gave Me a Song” and spirituals such as “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning.”
“The music itself calls for you to be totally involved in it,” Davis said. “It’s African-rooted music. It came through the slaves from Africa, and African music is always dancing, movement and singing. They are always one.”
The gospel choir began in November 1995 with only five students. Today, it has grown to more than 30 members. Davis said he’s pleased to see the group mature and grow.
Members join the choir for a variety of reasons. Judy Ebert, a staff member at Wilson Library, joined the choir last spring. She said she read about it in a local newspaper and decided to try it.
“It sounded like fun, and it has been a lot of fun,” she said.
Members can also receive class credit for singing in the choir as a part of the Jazz Studies program.
Davis said it is a misconception that gospel music is only for black people. “Gospel music is a discipline that if you choose to learn it, you can learn it,” he said. “You can be white, Asian American, or South American.”
Students in the choir are from all parts of the world, including Brazil, Japan, China, Egypt and Taiwan.
Aya Saichi, a linguistics student from Japan said, “This is my first experience with African gospel music, and I love it.
Davis stresses to his students that gospel is a discipline like any other form of music. “Once you learn the style,” Davis said, “you can apply it to jazz, pop, rhythm and blues or anything.”
Davis said rap music is part of the contemporary gospel scene and that the choir has incorporated it into its performance of “God Gave Me a Song.”
Davis believes all American pop music– from country-western, ragtime and rhythm-and-blues to rock-and-roll– was influenced by music of the African root.
“All this music has its root back in the Negro spirituals and slave songs,” Davis said. “When you talk about Negro spirituals, you’re talking about the grandfather of all American music.”