By Dylan Toolajian
I had never before seen the Villanova Gospel Choir perform, and didn’t quite know what to expect. Some of the other people milling about looked equally neutral, perhaps they had also never been to such an event.
As I sat down in St. Mary’s Chapel to attend the winter concert, I wondered vaguely if it would be a mellow, relaxed event. I was dead wrong.
The Villanova Gospel Choir is comprised of 20 talented student singers directed by Ruth Elizabeth Winslow and accompanied by pianist David Winslow and drummers Oscar Strange and Howard Kennedy. When the group climbed the risers at the front of the chapel, they immediately filled it with their excitement for the night’s concert.
The choir opened with “All Good Things Will Be Added Unto You,” a beautiful, calm piece that was perfectly balanced with three great solos.
The opening prayer and introduction followed, which captured the entire audience. He invited us to stand, sway, join in and do whatever we wanted to become a part of the concert.
When the choir made it clear it wanted the audience to enjoy itself, the crowd responded with cheers of approval. This signaled the choir to leap into its first song. The evening only got better.
The Villanova Gospel Choir blanketed the space with its full, warm sound. Though each member was obviously talented, the selected soloists throughout the evening showcased their vocal abilities and love of the music. At times, members of the audience jumped up to clap with the choir or praise God together, adding their own voices to the ensemble. Several of the songs had a terrific energy, moving quickly or powerfully with a vibrant tone. These were followed by riotous applause and cheers, sometimes standing ovations. Other pieces, such as “O Holy Night,” which was performed by a trio of female seniors, were more relaxed, but equally as heartfelt and touching.
The real triumph of the concert was the interlude in the middle of the program, during which Winslow invited audience members to the altar to commune with God.
Those who wanted to broaden their relationship with God could do so; those who wanted to offer prayer requests felt free to express themselves. The band next to Winslow softly accompanied her words with a relaxed instrumental. Though this portion of the concert did not include any vocal selections, I thought it was a beautiful gesture of invitation for the audience. Winslow reminded the audience that anyone who wished was welcome to join the choir for services on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I was reminded of the University’s commitment to providing its students with a sound education, regardless of their religious affiliation, the Villanova Gospel Choir welcomes new members of the church with its music in much the same way.
The choir closed its concert with a piece that Winslow had arranged for a children’s choir in 1992, which she began with an awe-inspiring solo that had the audience clapping before the ensemble had even begun. The melody sent shivers down my spine, and at the conclusion, I was on my feet, hollering with the rest of the audience.
With Winslow’s guiding hand, the choir’s raw talent and the assistance of three accompanists, it is no wonder that this choir is such a force to be reckoned with.
Their hard work was clearly evidenced in the spirit of the performance—not necessarily a technical skill, but an earnest drive to help everyone present enjoy himself or herself. I was struck by the power their performance had in bringing the audience to its feet or hushing them in an instant. The whole night was quite inspiring.