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Naval Academy Gospel Choir: Singing Toward Leadership

Posted on: January 29, 2014 08:00 EST by Lt. Jessica Crownover

A lively stream of midshipmen saunters into the rehearsal room in Alumni Hall excited to see each other and talk about their weekends.

At 6:40 p.m., everyone in the room is called to silence and joins hands; it is time for opening prayer, a time to break away from the stressors of being a midshipman and to be in an environment that promotes praise and fellowship.

Asking for direction and for the Lord’s word to uplift them, they break prayer and music starts – rehearsal has begun and the lively sounds of, “He has done wondrous deeds, praise the Lord,” explode into the room.

A group of about 65 midshipmen gather every Monday evening to praise and worship through song, and without seeing the immediate correlation, gain skillsets that will allow them to become the leaders of our Navy and Marine Corps team.

The Naval Academy Gospel Choir is composed of 16 first-class midshipmen, 12 second-class midshipmen, 21 third-class midshipmen, 16 fourth-class midshipmen. Their band is a group of four professional musicians. Their director, Karla Scott, has been with the choir since 2006.  The officer representative is U.S. Marine Corps LtCol. Mike Williams, and the enlisted representative is Quartermaster Chief Cindy Ragland.

Despite the academic and athletic requirements midshipmen need to fulfill to graduate, this talented group of individuals choose to come together to praise and worship God through song, and they have been for 28 years.

“It’s kind of a relaxing time for people to spend time with God, spend time with their friends, and forget everything that’s going on in the Hall,” said midshipman first-class Dwayne Saunders, Gospel Choir President. “When you come here, you can forget about it all for an hour and a half or so.”

Since 1985, the USNA Gospel Choir prepares full concert repertoire to sing all over the country and inspire those who listen of their mission of leading others to the Gospel as well as conducting the mission of diversity outreach for the Naval Academy. 

“It makes me feel honored and excited to see how we grow and reach more audiences with our message,” said midshipman fourth-class Kassandra Harriott. “It is much more than putting on a performance.”

Aside from the incentives to keep grades up in order to travel, midshipmen will not be able to share their time together in choir without being academically eligible.  The choir has performed in Newark, N.J. They will be headed to Houston, Texas in January for their annual Martin Luther King Tour and finish out their travels in March with their spring break tour in Alabama and Louisiana. In 2011, the choir went on their first international tour to South Korea.

The choir environment is a way to praise God without judgment, within a community that openly shares the same love and dedication toward their faith, said Saunders. The encouragement that some midshipmen need to get through their week or even through difficult times is fueled by the family that exists in the choir. 

“We struggle together, grow as a team, and conquer the tasks and challenges that face us all, as a team,” said midshipman second-class Tiana Williams.

Although they do not get to travel as often as they have in the past due to budget constraints, these individuals continue to come back to rehearsal every Monday.  The choir helps each student set higher academic standards than they may expect from themselves, said Williams.

They get weekly inspiration from each other, the music and from their director. They learn time management and how personal growth can be found in various forms. The resounding reason why they participate? It gives them an opportunity to praise God through song. The sense of community provides a support system that lets each and every one of them know that they are not on their own; they have God and each other to guide them through any hardship or joy brought upon them, said Scott.

“We want them to know what it means to be a leader in all facets of their personality,” said Scott.

While these performers share their talents with each other and with the audiences they reach, it is easy to forget that after four years of academics they will receive their commission into the Navy or Marine Corps.  Gospel choir is a great part of their military training. Each choir member offers a different perspective on life. Different backgrounds build the strength that allows for diversity outreach.

“Working with a diverse group of people is definitely going to apply in the fleet because you need to know how to interact,” said Saunders. “I’ve learned to empower people in different ways.”

When out in the fleet, these young men and women will be able to serve their sailors and Marines.

“Values of good leadership, whether they are found in a holy book or not, are quite universal,” said Scott. “Everyone understands the universal language of excellence. Using the vehicle of music to really undergird them, strengthen them and really encourage them with what they say they want to do.”

It is now 7:55 p.m. and after a little more than an hour of singing, laughing, and worship, everyone circles up and holds hands. Prayer requests are taken for those that need a little more spiritual support and praise reports are given to reemphasize God’s works. After people have said their piece, someone in the room closes the rehearsal with a prayer to take them forward throughout the week. After the final amen, you hear a resounding “HUG SOMEBODY,” and everyone does just that.
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