Singers share “Hallelujah” moments at choir concert


Annie Thomas, ‘24, directs the Cantatrici choir during the concert. Photo taken as a screen shot of the livestream of the concert.

Adelaide Loving, Staff Writer

Pre-performance nerves are normal, but when Josh Lewis, ‘24, stepped forward for his solo during the University Singers’ performance of Dr. Rosephanye Powell’s “Hallelujah,” he was anything but nervous.

“I completely forgot there was an audience for a second; I forgot there was a choir behind me,” Lewis said. “I was having this spiritual experience on stage.”

After singing for the composer hours before, performing for the whole of Wilson Concert Hall was nothing for Lewis.

Powell, a renowned American choral composer, came to Washington and Lee on Friday, Sept. 30 to workshop with the choirs before the concert that evening. The University Singers, Cantatrici and Glee Club each prepared and performed one of Powell’s gospel compositions for the event. 

The three choirs had to memorize and rehearse the full Parents and Family Weekend Concert during the first three weeks of the fall semester. This year, they had the added challenge — and privilege — of preparing to work with Powell. 

The choirs took care to honor Powell’s rhythmic, spiritual style that is rooted in both the solo and responsive church singing found in African American gospel music. 

Nat Ledesma, ‘23, who conducted the Glee Club’s rendition of Powell’s “Ascribe to the Lord” for the concert, said that students worked hard to “portray the culture with the honesty and respect it deserves.” 

Ledesma, who is a Vocal Music Education major and member of the Choir Conducting Mentorship Program, found the concert to be “an eye-opening and soul-opening experience.” Fellow choir members found Powell’s musical expertise and energetic stage presence enlightening as well. 

“It was electrifying,” said Lizzy Ngyuen, ‘25, who is a member of the University Singers.

The choir brought that energy to the stage. So did Powell, who conducted her compositions for the audience of Washington and Lee parents, family and friends. 

“[The performance] was so immersive,” said Chaeyon Jang, ‘25. “It felt like I was on stage, even though I was in the audience.”

That sense of immersion comes in part from the improvisation that is characteristic of the gospel spiritual genre. During Lewis’s solo, Powell turned and began to sing right next to him. Afterwards, Lewis commented on this “Hallelujah” moment and what it meant to bring gospel music to the choir students at Washington and Lee.

“With gospel music, there is a group of people that technically have ownership over it,” said Lewis. “So the fact that the composer of gospel music came [to W&L], and sang it with us, and conducted it just really opened my eyes to how…we can come together and move forward through music.”

The University Singers will be taking “Hallelujah,” along with Powell’s teachings, with them to perform at the City of Derry International Choir Festival in Londonderry, Northern Ireland on Oct. 21-23. 

University Singers will perform their full repertoire again, along with Cantatrici and Glee Club, at the Fall Choir Concert Oct. 25 at 8 p.m. in Wilson Concert Hall.