Music for the Soul

University of Oregon’s Gospel Choir celebrates its 40th anniversary with a concert at Beall Concert Hall

On a rainy day in Eugene, music enthusiasts in a single file line await finding their seats. Choir classroom 163 soon fills with the sounds of melody, soul and spirit known as gospel music — all in preparation for the upcoming 40th-anniversary show at Beall Concert Hall on June 11.

The University of Oregon’s gospel vocal ensembles consist of Gospel Choir, a large beginners choir; Gospel Ensemble, a smaller intermediate choir, and Gospel Singers, an advanced highly skilled choir. Anyone can join the three groups, though the Gospel Ensemble and Singers both require auditions. Student status at the UO is not necessary, nor is it necessary to major or minor in music to participate. 

Each choir will showcase its talent and knowledge from the last term or so at the 40th-anniversary show. Andiel Brown, director of UO’s gospel choirs and ensembles, says the concert acts as their final for the class. For Gospel Choir and Gospel Ensemble it can be taken as a class each term, Gospel Singers is typically a year-long commitment.

Brown stands at the head of the classroom instructing his students to repeat after him and motions them to step and sway from side to side. “I teach them their parts, verse-by-verse, section-by-section,” he says. “You don’t have to learn how to read music in this class because we do it very traditionally.”

Gospel developed as an early traditional genre of Christian music throughout the U.S. It was created by African American slaves who could not read or write music but could transmit their knowledge through listening and repeating melodies. Over the years, gospel has made its way to churches, record labels, radio stations and more. The 1938 jazz-gospel song “When the Saints Go Marching In,” made famous by Louis Armstrong, consists of lyrics inspired by the Bible’s Book of Revelation.

“Music is history. It’s culture. It is the sentiment of people. It’s a legacy,” Brown says. “It was created by my ancestors. It was created as a way to give hope, to connect, to give instruction.”

Brown then reaches a higher tone and begins to sing “Wade in the Water” by Ramsey Lewis as an example of including historical meaning and emotion. “That song was literally giving instructions on how to get free from slavery,” he says.

Popular songs through the years, including “Man in the Mirror” by Michael Jackson, will be sung by the choirs on the night of the big show. Duck fans will recognize another well-known song, but Brown is waiting for the unveiling. Each choir will perform separately but will converge for some performances. Brown has implemented dance choreography for the groups, and he will also perform alongside them. Some of Brown’s students from the Cuban salsa class he teaches at Bushnell University will also perform.

“It’s just a really good positive environment for anyone, especially if people are going through a depression or anything like mental health issues or any kind of issues in life,” Christina Stubbs, a member of Gospel Singers, says over the phone. “I always highly recommend either joining or, you know, just going to a concert, and it will literally just uplift anyone.”

Since 2019, Stubbs, 31, has taken part in the gospel program. She is not registered as a UO student, but really she has been a part of it for decades. Her grandmother and aunt were a part of the gospel choirs. Music runs in Stubbs’s family, and she carries it on. Her father used to play the piano for Brown.

She grew up in a musical family and joined choirs in elementary, middle and high school. She has sung sounds anywhere from classical to opera and gospel. “It’s a huge part of my life. And I just consider it a passion of mine. It’s something I have to do. It keeps me happy,” Stubbs says. “I look forward to it every day, especially when I go to my choir rehearsals.”

During the class, Brown tallies those who wish to audition for a solo in the upcoming show and marks what song they prepare to sing. The room is quiet only for a moment, then the playing of  a piano begins, and the rehearsing goes on.

“The music will take you on a journey, and cause you to deal with some things that you’re going through in your life,” Brown says. “That’s the nature of music — the nature specifically of gospel music.”

Beall Concert Hall hosts UO Gospel Choir Concert June 11 at 5 pm. Tickets are available in person at UO Ticket Office, online at or by phone at 541-346-4363.