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Music professor leads ASU Gospel Choir on path to international collaborations

The ASU Gospel Choir in the School of Music, Dance and Theatre recently released a recording, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” with York University Gospel Choir as part of an international collaboration project.

ASU Gospel Choir with Assistant Professor Nathan De'Shon Myers.

The recording, which includes 70 students across academic disciplines, is the first project in the collaborative vision that Nathan De'Shon Myers, assistant professor and director of the ASU Gospel Choir, has to connect the choir at Arizona State University with the national and international gospel community.

Professor Karen Burke, founding director of the York University Gospel Choir and a 2020 guest artist with the ASU Gospel Choir, reached out to Myers about a collaboration, including visits to each other’s campuses and joint concerts. Because of COVID-19, those plans had to change direction.

“We are very committed to collaborating for the sake of our students, our programs and our communities to show the validity of gospel music, the connectivity that can happen through it and the learning experiences that students can grow through,” Myers said.

Since travel was not allowed, Myers and Burke worked with the leadership teams of both choirs to create a new plan for a virtual collaboration.

Last year, Myers was a virtual guest lecturer with the York choir and Burke was a virtual guest lecturer with the ASU choir, and both choirs met virtually and participated in breakout sessions and rehearsals leading up to the recording of “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

To create the recording, the choirs used BandLab, a platform Meyers and ASU students learned about when they all attended the virtual Power Up Gospel Conference, coordinated by Burke for more than 17 years and sponsored by the Toronto Mass Choir.

After a training on BandLab, Myers selected the platform for creating high-quality recordings that could be mixed and mastered at a professional level. For the recording, each choir member individually created and submitted their own videos last spring. Most of the students recorded directly into their laptops with headphones and the laptop as the microphone. They also assisted with the initial mixing and balancing of the tracks.

The ASU choir recorded their tracks first, and then Myers trained the York choir on how to use the BandLab and organized a detailed recording schedule.

Myers mixed the individual sessions together and then mixed within themselves on a new track for the audio. A professional editor then combined the video and audio.

Every student’s recording was captured on the final project.

“Everyone who wanted to be a part of it, who could be a part of it, was a part of it,” Myers said. “It's a great testament to the international impact that gospel music can have and how you can integrate certain technological tools to bridge those gaps between distances as we work to safely participate in what is considered one of the most dangerous art forms (singing) within this time period.”

Myers said the recording project is the beginning of a longer-term partnership and collaboration with York University and that there are plans for more in-person work together, including travel to each other’s campuses and both professors teaching at each other’s universities.

Future plans for Myers and Burke also include creating connections between gospel choirs and directors nationally and internationally, with soft connections already taking place.

Myers plans to reconnect the ASU Gospel Choir to the two major gospel music conventions in the United States, the Gospel Music Workshop of America and the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses, to further national connections.

Myers said a larger goal is to create an alliance of gospel choirs and directors to connect around the globe.

“We are looking to simultaneously build community at the local, regional, national and international levels,” Myers said.

At the same time and in addition to performing at the Tempe campus, the ASU choir is connecting with the local community through outreach and volunteering on campus and around town. This semester’s performance schedule also includes the Tempe History Museum on Oct. 8, local Tempe church Dayspring UMC on Oct. 21 and at Hospice of the Valley’s “Light up a Life” event honoring loved ones who transitioned, which will be featured on AZTV in November. 

“Ultimately, I would love to take the choir out of the country as ambassadors for the university,” Myers said. “I see our choir as an ambassador for the School of Music, Dance and Theatre, for the university and for gospel music in America.”

lamacdon@asu.edu