Ministry of sound
Although the concert was nearly over, Jacquelynn Griffin couldn’t read her music anymore.
And as the lyrics of the song ‘Great Things Are in Store for Me’ ran through her mind, a single tear streamed down her cheek, inspiring a smile upon contact with the corner of her mouth.
‘I got so emotionally involved I just couldn’t sing,’ said Griffin, a sophomore hospitality management major. ‘I only got through about two parts of the song … it was spiritually moving.’
Griffin was not the only one touched by the performance at the City of Refuge Church in downtown Syracuse last year. Several of the 40 other members of the Black Celestial Choral Ensemble – an evangelical group dedicated to music ministry – were deeply stirred as well.
‘I looked over and saw a bunch of the other members crying,’ Griffin said. ‘We were all hysterical.’
A second year alto with deeply rooted religious convictions, Griffin represents many members of the co-ed Christian choir – a group that cites spiritual development and personal growth as the benefits of faith ministry.
The performing troupe was created in 1977 in order to give students a sense of religious well-being within the black community, according to Rachael Salter, a sophomore emerging enterprise major and the group’s historian. A majority of the members are Christians, yet the group is open to people of all religions and ethnicities.
Auditions for the choir are held every semester, where each BCCE hopeful prepares a musical piece and then answers a series of interview questions. This process ensures the selectivity of the choral group, which auditions about five to 10 members each semester.
‘I joined because I wanted to learn more about religion,’ Griffin said. ‘I thought a choral ensemble would be a good way to learn more about people and what they believe in.’
While many join the group to enhance their spiritual commitment or awareness of other denominations, some seek social connections with other members.
‘I wanted to join something where I can associate with people who have the same beliefs,’ Salter said. ‘I saw how the group could interact with the audience, and I really wanted to be a part of that.’
The celestial choir performs both on campus and in the Syracuse community, but the majority of their show sites are at churches in the downtown area. The group also participates in workshops at local colleges such as Binghamton College and the University of Albany.
‘I love singing in front of people,’ said Milissa Carter, a junior psychology major and the group’s chaplain. ‘They really anticipate our coming, and it gives me a good feeling to know that we’re doing what we’re called to do.’
Several changes have been incorporated into the program since its creation 28 years ago, such as the expansion of performance outlets and a group retreat that started last year. Four-year member Gregory Williams, a senior communication and rhetorical studies major, attributes the group’s strength to leadership improvements.
‘When director Shayla Adams joined the choir three years ago, the group became much more active,’ Williams said. ‘Her vision for the choir has helped it grow spiritually, and the anointing is so much stronger.’
For Williams, the strong bonds of friendship he forged through the choir were especially important during his adjustment to college during his freshman year. It was this involvement, he says, that helped him get through both financial and psychological hardships.
‘The Christmas concert freshman year was especially significant to me because it made me feel like I was back home,’ Carter said. ‘After the performance, my friends told me they could even get through finals easier because of the show.’
In a similar way, Smith used the ensemble group as a spiritual guide and defense against homesickness her freshman year.
‘The group has given me a place to exemplify the personal changes I have made,’ Smith said. ‘In school you have to be accountable for your own personal choices without your family.’
The success of the choir may be attributed not only to the spiritual dedication of choir members, but the enjoyment members derive from their involvement.
‘I love being able to express myself through song, and I love the way that music can change the way you feel,’ Griffin said. ‘Whenever we sing we consider ourselves ministering…it changes your lifestyle.’
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