Abigail Reese | Guest Writer
On Monday, Sept. 17, Chicago’s United Center was filled with 10,000 people cheering and dancing in the aisles while the Wheaton College Gospel Choir anticipated their performance. Moments before they went on stage, their director said, “You have one audience, and that is Jesus Christ.”
The choir performed for the first time at Verizon’s How Sweet the Sound competition, singing “Let Everything that Hath Breath,” based on Psalm 150. Last year, the choir attended the competition to observe, and after submitting a video clip of their choir performances, they were chosen to compete this year against five other choirs from the surrounding region.
Wheaton College made it past the first several rounds and won a $3,000 prize for getting into the competition.
The gospel choir is the first choir not affiliated with a church to advance in regionals in the five-year history of the competition. In comparison with the other choirs, Wheaton’s choir was the youngest, the only college choir, the largest and the most diverse.
The competition was sponsored by Verizon, and the winners were chosen by celebrity judges including CeCe Winans, Fred Hammond, Erica Campbell and Bishop Hezekiah Walker.
Their day started off at 5 a.m. The choir sang “Oh Happy Day” at the WGN-TV studio and did a two minute teaser of their song at 7:30 a.m. and then at 9:20 a.m. The WGN segment included an interview with gospel recording artist Yolanda Adams.
Dexter Walker and the Zion Movement Choir placed first, and Wheaton received third place. Verizon’s How Sweet the Sound tour, along with the famous gospel artists, is traveling across the United States, and each winner of the individual competitions goes on to perform in New York. After the choirs finished, the judges critiqued them.
Tanya Egler, Wheaton’s Gospel Choir director, was encouraged by the feedback.
“I felt so blessed to hear what they had to say. They said they could tell we had practiced, and that even though I’ve been doing this for 23 years, I am still excited every time I conduct. They could see that I’m still having fun,” said Egler.
Because this was Wheaton College’s first competition, many students and members of the choir were anticipating the event. Grace Walter, a sophomore soprano, called it “a great (time) of fun, worship and music.” And although they didn’t win the grand prize, Walter said, “I don’t think we are all sitting around disappointed that we didn’t win first ... I think the other choirs really deserved to win because they were fantastic, and we really enjoyed it.”
Going into the competition, they had less than one month to practice. The choir had rehearsals three days a week for two hours.. They practiced the same song repeatedly to get prepared. Senior Zeke Hernandez, the president of the choir, felt “glad that we are going to be moving on to new songs, and I think the choir’s members are too,” he said. They had 59 choir members and six band members, as well as make-up artists and photographers that accompanied them.
Junior Jessica Duttweiler, the vice president of the choir, said she enjoyed “learning a lot about gospel music and seeing other choirs that were really talented.” She also commented that “being immersed in the gospel choir atmosphere was amazing!”
Wheaton’s Gospel Choir has existed for 26 years and has toured throughout the nation. Last year, they came out with a CD entitled “Legacy,” commemorating 25 years of ministry. It is available for purchase at the Wheaton College bookstore. Choir leaders expressed thanks to any community members who donated one of the 96 phones for their Hopeline fundraiser for victims of domestic violence. They anticipate serving and singing at more venues this upcoming year. They will be welcoming incoming students and preparing for ministry in their local concerts and for their spring break tour.
Photo and Banner Image courtesy of Bill Kraulter and Sure Thing Studios.
Printed in the September 21, 2012, issue of The Wheaton Record. Send comments to email@example.com.