Choirs and singing groups throughout Utah participated in bringing their messages of hope and inspiration to Weber State University’s 18th annual Gospel Music Festival on Jan. 19.

Among the choirs that participated were the Weber State Concert Choir, Second Baptist Mass Choir, Tongan Youth Mass Choir, Kids Are Music, New Hope Fellowship & Remnant Gospel Group and Branches Gospel Choir.

The purpose of the festival was to join together to share the African-American music experience through inspiring gospel songs with all people of the community.

Each year, the festival focuses on a different theme. This year’s theme was, “Make a Joyful Noise: The Dream Still Continues,” in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech given in 1963.

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Dr. Mark Henderson, center-left, leads the Weber State University Chamber Choir as part of the Jan 19 Gospel Fest. (Joshua Wineholt / The Signpost)

“This year’s theme revolves around the idea that the dream still continues today, and it’s going to keep growing,” said Alicia Washington, a WSU grad student and member of the planning committee for the festival for the past two years.

The festival started as a one-time community event 18 years ago and has now grown into an annual music festival that many in the community look forward to attending.

The event was free, although attendees were encouraged to bring a new or gently used book to donate to K-12 schools in the community.

Sahna Foley, who attended the festival for the first time, gave insight on the experience itself.

“I loved seeing the interaction with the audience and all the people getting involved with the choir and the music,” Foley said.

The upbeat and positive music brought members of the audience to their feet while several clapped and sang along to familiar songs.

“It was such a positive direction of moving forward despite the times we’re in,” Foley said. “We were able to surround ourselves with love with our family, friends and even strangers.”

Julius Toney, a member of the Second Baptist Mass Choir, was excited to be participating in the festival this year. “It’s really cool that we can all come together with different gifts to give God praise. We go to church and we’re moved, and tonight we can come here and we’re able to do the same thing.”

Participation by youth choirs such as the Tongan Youth Mass Choir and Kids Are Music demonstrates that people of all ages are able to join in appreciation of cultural enrichment.

This is the fifth year that the Kids Are Music group has participated in the music festival. LeAnn Ostler, co-director of the program, said they plan to come back every year, as it gives the kids a chance to celebrate diversity in their own community.

“We really love participating in this music festival because it allows our students to sing, hear and perform music that they might not get to learn anywhere else,”
Ostler said.

Although the Gospel Music Festival celebrates cultural diversity within the community, Washington encourages everyone to find a way to celebrate cultural diversity and continue to “keep the dream alive” within our own community and campus throughout the rest of the year.

“There are so many different groups and organizations that you can be a part of,” Washington said. “I would encourage you to come to different events happening on campus, and keep your eyes open in the community.”

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