"When I started as director (in July of last year) there were 38 members," recalled Glasper during a recent interview. "And this year that has grown to 67." (The Calvin group presents its annual fall concert at 3 p.m. Sun. Nov. 19 - see details below).
Performing in the classic gospel style, the diverse group of student singers is learning while engaging the call-and-response techniques, creative improvisation and physically expressive nature of the genre.
"The goal is to really show each member the message behind the music," explained Glasper, 34. "I keep them in tune with that and open to hearing...what did you receive in this song?"
Traditionally, gospel choirs didn't even use scores – they learned the music by rote as the director taught the harmonies and rhythms. Glasper uses scores as a reference point in the teaching process. But at some point the singers need to let go.
"I tell them from the beginning that they're gonna have to stretch and see how well rounded gospel music is," said the director. "At some point I tell them to put the scores down and let's express it using our non-verbals – clapping and moving. Speak from the heart and not just what's on the page."
VARIED SONG SELECTION
The choir's fall concert is a sampler of the group's variety of approaches. On the program is the traditional Negro spiritual "I Am Determined" as well as a gospel version of the chorus "Lord, Prepare Me (To Be A Sanctuary)."
"We're doing the hymn 'Draw Me Nearer,' but it's arranged differently to have a call-and-response for the audience to be part of," promised Glasper.
The choir is also performing an original song ("How Excellent") by Debra L. Perry, formerly director of the gospel choir and a Calvin grad.
"There will be lyrics on the screen and some printed in the program as well," Glasper said. "We're really creating an atmosphere of worship."
The Calvin ensemble has music in several languages and includes touches of jazz, African music and contemporary and traditional anthems. The voices are backed by a rhythm section of several keyboards, bass and drums.
The choir performs in either robes or stylized T-shirts, depending on the setting. "In this fall concert we'll be a little more formal," he smiled.
DEEPENING HIS INVOLVEMENT
Glaper, a Muskegon native, was assistant director for 10 years under Dr. Charsie Sawyer, a Calvin music professor who helmed the choir for two decades. When she stepped down last year, he was hired as a Calvin adjunct music instructor with responsibility for the gospel ensemble.
The gospel choir can claim to be one of the most ethnically diverse groups on Calvin's campus. Among the ranks are a number of students from the African nation of Ghana (The choir toured in Ghana in 2003). There's also Korean, Hispanic, African-American students as well as Caucasian.
Some years ago choir membership became a one-credit-hour music department "class." But Glasper says most of the members are not music majors simply rounding out a degree program.
"These students are here because they want to sing," the director said. "They feel singing in this choir furthers the mission and vision of the college."
On two consecutive fall Sundays the choir performed for a Korean church in Ann Arbor and a Pentecostal church in Muskegon. "That's two weeks' worth of cultural differences....they're loving it," he said of his singers.
Four years ago Glasper was selected to be the first director of a new gospel choir at Grand Rapids Christian High School. "I'm teaching them some of the same things," he said of highlighting the message in the music.
MULTIPLE AVENUES OF SERVICE
A Kentwood resident, Glasper is a member of Grace For the Nations Church in Cascade Township where he is an executive assistant, worship leader and a worship arts and media liason. He directs his church's summertime fine arts program as well as teaches at Calvin's Knollcrest Music Camp. Glasper also does mentoring with worship apprentice students and leads student chapel at the college about once a month.
His degree (Cornerstone University) is in business administration, but he is currently studying at Calvin Seminary seeking an M.A. in worship.
Meanwhile, he has released several albums of his own original gospel music, and earlier this year he issued a new song, "Savior of the World." Hear it online. He has toured internationally, including a half dozen visits to South Africa.
"I try to inspire everyone to live a life of worship," he said. "Don't just sing it, live it!"
The Calvin College Gospel Choir, directed by Nate Glasper Jr.
3 p.m. Sun. Nov. 19
in Covenant Fine Arts Center Auditorium at Calvin College.
No tickets necessary, admission is free.
For more info: https://calvin.edu/calendar/event.html?id=66ca2f32-2dfd-443f-82e2-90acf9a10107
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