The Black Student Forum (BSF) Gospel Choir, initially organized by BSF Club members to sing for Black History Weekend, is now a student-based ministry consisting of students from a wide range of ethnic cultures and backgrounds.
The 52-member choir has performed for churches and schools in Northern and Southern California, including special appearances at the Black Convocation in Richmond. The choir works on a voluntary basis and is open to anyone interested in black culture and gospel music.
Colleen Sovory, who directed the choir last year, said everyone had to grow as the choir became more culturally diverse. "It was a learning experience for the members, and the choir has evolved into a more cosmopolitan sound," she said. "But the love of music and the Lord brought them all together."
Sovory, now an enrollment counselor at PUC, remembers the choir as "informal" when it started in 1991. She was a student and a member of the BSF club at the time. "We started the choir because many students were used to singing gospel music, but no one on campus was doing it."
Several years later, Sovory was working in Sacramento when a student from Pacific Union College asked her to direct the choir for Black History Week. After she completed her duties, she was asked to direct the group on a continuing basis. Sovory agreed and commuted every weekend to direct and take the choir to sing at churches. She eventually quit her job to come back to Pacific Union College to take classes, work in enrollment services, and, of course, direct the BSF choir.
"I love directing," she said. "Many students haven't been exposed to gospel music, but there is just something about the melody and simplicity that makes it truly compelling."
Jeremy Price, this year's director, is equally enthusiastic about the choir's gospel music ministry. "It's my first love," he said. A junior music major, Price was the pianist for the choir as a sophomore at PUC Preparatory School. "The first time I heard gospel music was in high school. It was the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir on CD. Since then, it's been my favorite type of music."
As the director, Price is in charge of selecting music, writing out parts, booking, transportation, and more. "It's a huge responsibility, but I'm getting to do what I love," he said.
Ianshawn Smith, sophomore physical education major, said he enjoys singing gospel music because it is relaxing and fulfilling. "The style of gospel music portrays a message of joy, and it is the best way I know how to praise God," he said. Smith directs the choir when Price accompanies the group on the piano or Hammond organ.
The choir strives to help listeners, as well as members, draw closer to God. This was evident during their performance for young adults at the Napa State Hospital on Dec. 14, 1996.
"The audience responded well, and the choir was just electric with excitement," said Price.
Smith agreed. "Seeing all those people give their hearts to God was amazing," he said. "Not only did we help them see the need for God, but it also made me look at my life to see where I was and where I wanted to be in my relationship with Christ."
Nezzare James, a junior at Pacific Union College, said her three years as a choir member has brought her closer to God. "The BSF choir is a simultaneous combination of worship, fellowship, and enjoyment for me."
No matter what the future holds for the BSF Gospel Choir, the group is adamant about keeping focused.
"Our first goal is ministry. That is what we're here for," said Price. "We can rehearse until perfection, but unless the spirit of God is there, we are just a good choir lacking the most important dimension."