On Sunday afternoon, the crowd in Lyons Dining Hall jumped to its feet, swayed, and clapped to “Wade in the Water,” a 1901 Negro spiritual performed by Voices of Imani that encouraged the audience to participate at their first concert of the year on Oct. 19.
Voices of Imani is the only gospel choir at Boston College. The singing organization performed several songs, including both originals and covers.
In addition to the 35-person singing ensemble that comprises the group, Voices of Imani contains a gospel band that features a guitarist, keyboardist, bassist, and drummer, and for its Fall Jam, the band also included a trumpet player.
Campus a cappella groups The Beats, The Dynamics, and Against the Current opened the show, with The Beats commencing the concert with “Lift Every Voice and Sing”—a poem historically referred to as the African-American National Anthem and a piece originated by the author James Weldon Johnson.
Voices of Imani, which was founded in 1977, differs from other campus singing groups most notably due to the inclusion of a band. In addition, the group does not require auditions, which partially contributes to the choir’s large size.
Although the band does not always perform alongside the singers, it joins in during Voices’ typically larger shows, such as the Fall Jam and the annual winter concert.
The band adds an element of power that enhances the voices, said director David Altenor, BC ’09.
“It’s a gospel band, and churches have a full band,” he said. “We have music from that black church experience. We want the voices to be very powerful, but the band also enhances that feeling.”
“When the band does perform with the choir, it brings energy to the crowd and to the singing ensemble,” said Bria Coleman, A&S ’15 and current president of Voices of Imani.
“I think when you have a live band, it really excites both the choir and the crowd,” she said. “Live music always has that aspect about it. They bring energy to us.”
Altenor, who serves as the youngest director in the organization’s nearly four-decade history, sang with the choir while he attended BC as an undergraduate, but became assistant director three years after he graduated. It was just this year that he was named director of the singing ensemble.
In addition to musical covers, Voices of Imani also composes and produces original songs. Altenor has written and produced several of the group’s original songs, including “Unbelievable”—which the choir performed during the show. Last year, Altenor also produced the Voices of Imani album Road To Heaven.
“When we have rehearsals we try to make it a very creative open space,” he said. “I bring all the music and I bring all the arrangements but we’re open to suggestions. We just let it flow.”
In addition to several original songs, Voices of Imani performed numerous musical covers, including the American Negro spirituals “Go Down Moses” and “Sign Me Up,” which contain thematic references to Christianity and assimilation into the Church.
In its most recent few years, members of the ensemble have started to incorporate more genres into to group’s performances, including spirituals and rock songs, Coleman said.
“We’re singing a lot of different types of genres,” she said. “Now, everyone can find something that they like at Voices.”
The ensemble not only sings, but also regularly commits to community service around the country during spring break. Altenor said that he hopes the group will eventually be able to travel beyond the U.S., spanning locations throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa.
“We’re really pushing the boundaries of what gospel can do … but at the same time maintaining that same history and spirituality,” he said.
Last year, members performed in New York, and this year Voices is slated to travel to Atlanta.
The organization’s next performance in the 2014 year will be at the International Gospel Concert taking place at the Berklee Performance Center on Nov. 22.
Featured Image by Emily Sadeghian / Heights Editor