Gospel Choir aims to educate and celebrate with a mix of music genres


Gabriel Choi

Gospel Choir will perform a concert featuring traditional gospel music and testimonies on Nov. 6 at 4 p.m.

Led by professor Nathaniel Glasper Jr., Calvin’s gospel choir is unique from other music ensembles on campus. Since its inception in the 1980s, the choir has worked to incorporate aspects of a variety of worship cultures into their performances. Now Glasper, who took the helm of Gospel Choir in 2016 but only recently became a full-time Calvin faculty member, aims to widen the Calvin community’s exposure to unfamiliar cultures through music.

Serving as the conductor for the Gospel Choir as well as a resource development specialist and campus worship associate at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Glasper enjoys shining a spotlight on underrepresented Christian music styles, especially traditional Black gospel. 

There are things you can appreciate from every style,” Glasper said. For Glasper, Gospel Choir is an opportunity to expose students to different music genres. “I try to use these years to show the different styles of gospel and to get the students to gain an appreciation for each,” Glasper said. He also does this by blending different genres together in order to make interactions with the students during the performance interesting. For instance, “there are some songs that are gospel but have a classical undertone,” Glasper said. 

Glasper said he enjoys incorporating mixed genres such as gospel jazz and gospel praise and worship, which helps students from all backgrounds to feel included in the worship. 

It is a place where people from different walks of life can come and celebrate God together.

— Jesse Kinyua

Students in Gospel Choir appreciate the diversity and culture of the choir. “It is a place where people from different walks of life can come and celebrate God together,” said Jesse Kinyua, a senior Gospel Choir member. 

“I like how worshiping God is joyful and not just sad, because I feel like a lot of times the worship music is sad and a lot of people are crying,” said Rodrick DeOliveira, a sophomore choir member. Many students have gotten involved with the choir through word of mouth, like Rodrick DeOliveira, who joined at the recommendation of his floor resident assistant. Glasper aims to recruit a diverse set of cultural backgrounds for the choir.

When you bring gospel music to a setting, you have to bring the entire culture with it as well.

— Nathaniel Glasper Jr.

Bringing gospel music culture to Calvin hasn’t always been easy according to Glasper, who has been directing the choir for six years. “When you bring gospel music to a setting, you have to bring the entire culture with it as well,” Glasper said. He laments that there are times when people would try to look at gospel music through the same lens as European classical music — “It’s like oil and water,” said Glasper.

But Glasper hopes that gospel choir will continue to be a way for students and faculty to learn about the history and culture of gospel music. The choir goes on tour every few years, most recently in South Korea in 2020, and receives invitations from a variety of institutions across the globe.