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Lyon College Gospel Choir Shares Joy in Rome

In 2016, a company called KI Concerts sought out the Lyon College Gospel Choir in hopes that it would perform abroad as part of the company’s “international concert tours.” After two years of selling choir t-shirts, singing at local churches and events, and crowdfunding, members of the Lyon College Gospel Choir were able to visit Rome, Italy this summer for the musical exchange experience of a lifetime.

The Lyon College Gospel Choir is a vocal ensemble open to students and community members regardless of their faith. The ensemble performs a variety of song forms drawn from the African American religious tradition, including traditional and contemporary gospel, anthems, and spirituals. Under the direction of Markeita Williams and The Anointed Ones, the choir is devoted to using its art not only to entertain but also to worship.

Preparing to perform in KI Concert’s week-long Passion of Italy Festival, choir members fervently studied their sheet music in the hot summer weeks before their trip. They flew for over ten hours before stepping from the airport to the cobblestone streets of the city center, where they explored ancient ruins and art exhibits. Junior alto and volleyball player Ellie Embry felt transfixed by the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. She said, “I stood there in awe until we were kicked out.”

As part of the Festival, the choir performed "Everybody Clap Your Hands" by Joshua's Troop and "Revelation 19:1" by Stephen Hurd. It performed other songs with the Princeton Girls’ Choir (New Jersey), the St. Thomas Gospel Choir (Pennsylvania), and the Standley Lake High School Choir (Colorado). The Lyon College Gospel Choir was the only group in attendance representing a college.

The choir also had the opportunity to sing during mass at St. Peter’s Basilica and during a concert at Sant’Ignazio Di Loyola Church. At St. Peter’s Basilica, the choir sang three songs in Italian. Embry said, “Even though I could not understand a word of it, I loved singing mass there. It was amazing to be part of it.” 

“The students sang their hearts out!” Lyon College Gospel Choir Director Markeita Williams said. “The mass choir director complimented us on how all of our members sing out and are not afraid! I believe we have a fan club in Rome.”

The trip allowed students in the choir to both grow as human beings and to experience service through intercultural exchange. While in Rome, they aimed to share the joy of gospel music with their audiences.

“I joined the gospel choir because their energy is so great. I fell in love with the group, and I haven’t stopped singing with them since,” said Embry. She was eager to share that feeling with people in Italy, some who had not heard gospel music before.  “It was great to see their faces when we sang. The songs hit home despite the language barrier, and I will always remember that.” 

Now that they have returned, they plan to incorporate the techniques they learned from choir directors in Italy into their performances at home. Likewise, the choir is excited to share with the Batesville community what they learned about gospel music’s influence on other cultures, the link between Roman culture and the Catholic Church, and international travel. 

The Lyon College Gospel Choir will perform at New York’s Carnegie Hall in the summer of 2019. Williams said, “We will begin this fall to work towards this next great opportunity to share the joy of the gospel through song and worship!”