The beautiful sound of voices from the Mount Mary University chapel fill the campus hallways every Tuesday afternoon. Gospel Choir Director Debra Duff has been sharing her life-long passion for gospel music.
“I actually started playing gospel music in the second grade,” Duff said. “I came from a very musical family.”
Duff began the choir originally in 1993, but only lasted a year because she gave birth. Her focus to her son and the choir stopped completely, at least for the time-being.
In 2001, a student approached Duff and asked if the choir could start up again.
The choir went from being a student club of 15 students to a credit-based class in the Fine Arts department in 2010.
Duff recalls her father encouraging a love for gospel music when she was growing up.
“One song that was a favorite of my father’s was ‘I Won’t Complain,’” Duff said. “I actually sang the song at his funeral, and it has become a song that is very special to me.”
When Duff was 18, she realized she had a gift for singing.
“Growing up around music, it kind of gives you a passion for it,” Duff said. “This is just what I did and who I was.”
It’s no wonder she pursued a career in music.
Benefits of Studying Music
The Mount Mary Gospel Choir is currently in two parts: the performance choir and the theory portion, where students study the history of gospel music.
Duff encourages her students to take the theory class in addition to the performance choir. According to Duff, students learn to appreciate a connection between singing and studying gospel music.
“A lot of students don’t realize the origin or the history of gospel music,” Duff said. “It really helps to know the background and the history of the songs…and how they grew out of spirituals.”
Duff wants to bring a spiritual and personal feel to the audience and choir members. In fact, some students’ lives have changed because of their participation in choir.
“At different times you go through different things,” Duff said. “I listen to music that is catering to what I am going through at the time.”
The choir organizes the concerts including selecting music, choreographing, creating the advertising and creating the atmosphere.
“When we sang at the Mother House (a facility in Elm Grove operated by the School Sisters of Notre Dame), we sang more traditional songs,” Duff said. “When we sang at the Mass of the Holy Spirit, we tried to find songs that fit a group of people … and songs that are going to minister to the heart.”
Students in gospel choir learn to express themselves and their love for God.
“We come together to praise God through song,” said Michelle Domanski, freshman majoring in theology.
Aiko Satake, sophomore foreign exchange student from Japan studying communications, took Gospel Choir as an elective this spring.
“I like singing, and expressing my feelings when I sing is also important,” Satake said.
Andrea Bauman, post-baccalaureate art therapy student, is exploring her artistic side with Gospel Choir.
“I joined Gospel Choir because I love singing great songs with great people and getting to know others as I returned to Mount Mary,” Bauman said.