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Thursday, October 21, 2021

University Gospel Choir faces budget cuts and downgrade from class to club

If you’re a UC Davis student, you’ve likely heard of the UC Davis sports budget cuts. Many, however, may not have heard of the budget cuts to the University Gospel Choir, which helped to cut participation from around 150 students per quarter to around 20.

The Gospel Choir was founded by students of the Black Christian Fellowship in 1976 and has been growing ever since. For the last decade it has existed as a two-unit class in the Music Department.

Now, that is changing. The Gospel Choir experimented last quarter by switching from a class to a club. Though it currently exists as a class this quarter, it will be a club from now on.

Its final concert as a class will be held on May 22 at Freeborn Hall at 7 p.m.

However, some dedicated members of the Gospel Choir are not put off by these changes.

Carol Diaz, a junior psychology major who has been a member of the choir since fall 2009, said “It did get smaller, but it still provides the same family type community.”

Kendy Tuazon, a junior sociology major and member of the choir for one year, agrees with Diaz.

“It’s not like a regular choir,” she said. “There are a lot of friendships and connections.”

Tuazon added that the budget cuts have only affected the number of participants and not the enthusiasm of the group.

“A lot of people still look forward to it to having fun and getting away from the stresses of school,” she said.

Still, the club has had changed in response to the new budget cuts. They are now focused on being student-run and organized because they are no longer a class run by university staff.

“This is a return to the type of organization that the Gospel Choir originally had,” said Christopher Reynolds, chair of the music department. “It was for many years run under current conductor Calvin Lymos’ leadership as a student activity.”

Only in the mid 1990s did the Gospel Choir become a class.

Some see the transition back to a club as a way to get back to the original focus of the group.

“The club has been more intimate,” said Mark Afshar, a senior biological sciences major. “It is less restrictive in a sense.”

“As a club we can pray,” Tuazon said. “We have more freedom religiously as a club.”

Reynolds said that losing these freedoms, such as the ability to pray in class, initially upset students when the club first became a class in the 1990s.

Under the new student leadership, the Gospel Choir has shifted to a student focus. Many of the songs are now written by students themselves, rather than by Lymos, the conductor.

The student leaders are taking charge of their performances as well. Before, the choir would perform in quarterly performances at Freeborn Hall and at churches. Now, they have started to make a name for themselves in festivals throughout the Bay Area.

“There’s a huge gospel music community in the Bay Area, so we’ve been getting more well known and more invitations to gospel events,” Tuazon said.

What do students see as the future of Gospel Choir?

“I see the future of Gospel Choir as being an outreach, an example and a representation of the campus and its diversity and unity,” Afshar said. “It is just a great place where all different types of people can come regardless of background and all come together as one.”

Reynolds agreed, saying that the choir is a unique opportunity at UC Davis that should be preserved.

“I think [the choir students] are crucially important to the cultural diversity of the university and the community,” Reynolds said.

Still, the budget cuts loom large on the choir’s minds. They will no longer have a venue for their quarterly concerts at Freeborn Hall and the music department as a whole has had to make cuts.

“I’ve seen less classes offered, especially during summer session,” Diaz said. “Also one of my favorite [music] professors won’t be teaching anymore because of budget cuts.”

The music department is losing several staff members and plans to increase ticket prices to some of the over 100 concerts they sponsor each year, Reynolds said. They also plan on having fewer visiting professionals and coaching sessions for students.

Still, it doesn’t quite seem fair to Tuazon.

“They are keeping the Hindu [music] class, which is a 20 person class, but they’re cutting this really big class,” she said. “It doesn’t make sense to me because [Gospel Choir] is more in demand.”

Tickets are $6 for students and $12 for non-students. For more information, visit music.ucdavis.edu.

KELLY KRAG-ARNOLD can be reached at features@theaggie.org.

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