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        by Jennifer Post Stoudt

Choir girl Dressed in their new red robes the Choir enters the stage with a presence. It takes just one note and the audience is on their feet. Swaying to the music and clapping to the beat, the energy grabs them. Through the rhythm of the drums, shouts of praise uttered in perfect harmonies ring out from the stage as audience members raise their hands in exultation.

The Albright College Gospel Ensemble is in the house!

From hip-hop and rap to R&B and folk, gospel music spans every genre of music linking both young and old. With messages that aim to heal the sick, give strength to the weak, provide encouragement to the disheartened and give hope to the hopeless, its songs are a potpourri of life experiences through which people can identify. Its music is a source of inspiration for many.

For some students at Albright, however, being a part of the Gospel Choir has meant much more than performing on the stage. It’s what’s made their Albright experience one they will never forget.

The Albright College Gospel Ensemble began five years ago when a group of eight students approached Dr. Brenda Ingram-Wallace, associate professor of psychology, eager to find a place to express their spirituality. Today, with Ingram-Wallace as the choir advisor, the group boasts more than 40 students, has a resume that includes a performance with Barry Manilow, just finished recording a demo CD, continuously works to raise money to support their endeavors and will be working on their first live CD recording in the spring. Other ministries such as the Hands of Praise Mime Group, Heaven’s Angels Praise Dancers, and Steps of Faith Christian Step Team have evolved from this experience.

Passionate about both the music and her students, Ingram-Wallace says, "Gospel music is very interesting. It’s all about the spirit of the music. There’s no written sheet music. It’s all by ear. And there are no auditions. So if you want to sing there’s a place for you."

Albright Gospel ChoirAlthough the choir has a busy schedule of performances at Albright, equally important are its community outreach efforts such as the Berks County Prison and Bethany Children’s Home, as well as churches in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland and Washington, D.C. The choir is much more than just a place to sing; the fellowship and opportunity for service are powerful, she says. One of their greatest accomplishments has been the creation of the Total Praise worship services held every Sunday at the College under the leadership of Rev. Quentin Wallace. Ingram-Wallace says, "It’s Bible study, it’s prayer and it’s song all rolled together. Everything we do is ministry. That’s why students stay connected." This ecumenical service now incorporates students from Albright as well as the surrounding area schools.

Makema Grimes ’03 says performing for an audience is great, but getting out on stage and ministering about God is what it’s all about. "It’s fun to sing about God and praise his name. But it’s even better when you get to see someone who was saved."

In today’s fast-paced, chaotic world, many young people are looking for a solid foundation, says Ingram-Wallace. "They find that in their spirituality, and use it to get them through rough times and keep them grounded."

Grimes says that when the stresses of life get to her she’s always glad to know that she can go to her fellow choir members for support. "You need to know that there’s someplace you can go and get prayed for."

Choir member Mark Palmer ’04 agrees. When Palmer lost his brother just before Thanksgiving 2001, he was devastated. But he leaned on his brothers and sisters in the Albright College Gospel Choir to help him get through his grief. "We’re like a family," he says. "If something happens to one of us we’re there to lend support. We all look out for each other. Having the choir behind me during that time was a huge help. I wouldn’t have been able to get through it without them."

Albright Gospel ChoirIn addition to worshipping together through Total Praise, events such as the annual "Lock-in" help to bring members closer together. The Lock-in is an all night worship experience open to the entire Albright community. Students fast, listen to youth ministers, play Christian games, perform, pray and share thoughts and feelings with one another. "It was one of the best spiritual and communal experiences I have had, " says Erin Hayes ’02, a student at Princeton Seminary. "The Lock-in is something I think every Christian should experience because it is a time for true worship and reflection with God. It was like stepping away from all the distractions and bringing three of the most important things on Albright’s campus together – God, Christ and the Christian community."

Whether through song, worship or fellowship activities, students in the Gospel Choir agree that having a place to express their spirituality and the support of each other helps them get through the trials and tribulations of daily life. "I’ve seen people’s lives change," says Hayes. "Because the choir is so much a ministry it gave us the tools emotionally and spiritually to get through college."

"Young people go through so much," adds Ingram-Wallace. "When they come to the Total Praise worship services they continually have something they can use in their personal lives. It leads to a healthier and holistic life."

Reflecting on her experience, Hayes says being a part of the choir "helped me find what my role was on campus. It gave me an outlet for my faith and the desire that I had to worship and serve God." Ultimately, she says, "The choir helped me be a better Erin."

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