Exactly Where I’m Supposed to Be
Music and family bind together members of BU’s gospel choir.
By Ashley Thompson (COM’14)
Photos by Vernon Doucette
Above: An Inner Strength Gospel Choir concert at Marsh Chapel.
When I first walked inside Marsh Chapel early in my freshman year, the hustle of students and honking cars just outside seemed to disappear. Inside the sanctuary, I watched anxiously as strangers around me greeted each other with hugs and affection. Wait, how does this work? What are we singing? Questions crowded my mind as I listened to the lovely but unfamiliar melody played on the piano. When the choir began singing, the sounds it made were so beautiful and full of passion, it almost seemed as if the heavens had opened up above us. Suddenly, my heart wasn’t racing anymore—it was singing.
I soon discovered my reaction was normal among students in the Inner Strength Gospel Choir (ISGC), a nondenominational, student-run choral group of over 60 members devoted to glorifying God through song and praise. With 40 years under its belt, it is one of BU’s oldest student organizations, holding evening practices each Sunday. Susan Jacob (CAS’14) is president of the choir for 2013/14. “My very first rehearsal,” she says, “I was up there with the soprano section and, embarrassingly enough, I think I cried when we started singing “Oh Happy Day.” It was pretty magical.” Jacob says that part of what makes the choir so special is its diversity. Although the average age of the choir is between 18 and 21, graduate students and alums still living in Boston also sing with the choir, and students come from all over the University to sing. “It’s wonderful to bring together such amazing, driven people in a nonacademic environment,” she says, “because the competition is cut out and the only thing left is support and prayer.”
Fellow choir member Hermancina Celisca (CGS’16) agrees. “I was really attracted to the club because of the friendliness and openness of its members,” she says. “I wanted to be in a group where I could build personal and spiritual connections.” Celisca first learned about ISGC at BU’s annual SPLASH, a fall event that introduces new undergraduates to clubs and activities on campus. She says the choir’s diversity opened her up to different ideas and experiences, including the ISGC trip to Washington, DC, during the spring 2013 semester. ISGC holds two other concerts at BU’s Marsh Chapel in the end of the fall and spring semesters.
Special events first draw newer members in, but the home-away-from-home mood of the choir keeps them coming back. Allen Li (CAS’14) joined after watching the fall concert during his junior year. “The choir is a family,” he says. “It’s such a great opportunity to practice a skill that I’ve been wanting to develop in a friendly atmosphere.” Li says that the people within ISGC have had a huge impact on his experience. “The choir allowed me to form relationships with people I would never have otherwise met,” he says. “This has been such a blessing because I get to interact with such unique personalities and genuine people who I can build real relationships with.”
Singers in a gospel group are bound together by the music that is sung. Gospel music has been such a popular genre over the years that many of the same songs are continually repeated by various groups. What sets ISGC apart, however, is original music. Most of the music sung is unique, written by leaders like current director Herbert S. Jones, who regularly teaches the group songs he composed himself, derived from biblical scripture. One of these, “How I Love Him,” earned the nickname “ISGC’s song.” Sung by almost every ISGC member under Jones’s direction, it was one of the only songs that nearly every former member knew during ISGC’s anniversary concert.
“Gospel music is special because it emits so much soul,” says Celisca. “The music not only makes you want to stand up and dance, but the lyrics stay with you for days afterward. The songs have so much meaning and messages of good news that just uplift your spirit.” Jacob agrees that the power of the music has made her ISGC experience more meaningful. “I love the songs,” she says. “I love singing to the Lord these amazing pieces of music that I know reach His ear. When the parts of the harmony all come together, I feel that I understand my place in the world. It’s as though I am exactly where I’m supposed to be.”
Now in my senior year at BU, I feel the same way. Although ISGC has served me well as an outlet for my love of music since freshman year, it has become much more than just a group that I practice singing with each week. I’ve formed connections and relationships with people whom I probably would have never met without the choir. I have found friends within this group whom, even now, I know I will keep in contact with after graduation as we all enter new chapters of our lives.
BU is a pretty big university. With over 30,000 students, it can sometimes feel as if you’re just a tiny, little fish in a big, wide ocean. ISGC made BU smaller for me in the right way. Within it, I was able to forge deep friendships and sing beautiful songs of praise that would reach listeners in a way that only gospel music can. When I stepped into Marsh Chapel that first Sunday evening, I expected to join a choir of singers, but what I also received was a much-needed family.
Anyone is welcome to attend Sunday evening rehearsals, and tickets for the end-of-semester concerts go on sale during the week leading up to the concert at BU’s Marsh Chapel. More information about upcoming concerts—including this year’s Fall Concert on November 22—is available on the Inner Strength Gospel Choir’s Facebook page.