Lifting Voices and Raising Community

The Maryville University Gospel Choir is singing again, connecting the campus community through music.

Damon Mitchell, development director of outreach programs, believes you should use your gifts no matter where you are. Playing piano and songwriting are two gifts he’s brought to the Maryville community as the sponsor of the Maryville University Gospel Choir.

Mitchell knew from his experience as a pastor and playing piano for gospel choirs that Maryville students needed access to this different type of art form. He asked students at the annual Involvement Fair if they’d be interested in singing for the choir. Today, the choir is singing at annual events such as the President’s Holiday Celebration, Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration and Women Who Dare to Dream Luncheon.

To Mitchell, “It’s been joyful. I remember in college thinking about how to make friends and get through the day. A gospel choir is a safe space that makes a difference in students’ lives. The looks I see in the choir members’ eyes let me know that songs are helping them on a personal level. I am teaching them challenging songs that many of them haven’t heard, which stretches them musically. I’m able to combine a passion of mine with my career. I’m proud that’s honored at Maryville.”

With her mother as a choir director and her father as a preacher, first-year accounting major Olivia Harris, said, “Gospel music has been a huge part of my life, all of my life.” Attending college without a car, she wasn’t able to be as actively involved in her church choir. Now, Harris has access to sing in the choir on campus.

“I’m accessing good musical tools when singing with Damon. The Gospel Choir is kind of an outlet for me to meet new people, learn new skills and recognize there are others like me on campus.”

During rehearsals, Mitchell asks the group how they’re doing mentally, emotionally and academically. Harris believes being part of the choir helps students reduce their anxiety and stress while even helping the brain.

“It’s a joy to watch people come out of their shells. In the gospel world, we would call Olivia a ‘beast’ because she can sing anything. Helping the singers progress and learn their parts is rewarding. And we have lots of laughter at practice,” said Mitchell.

NOTE: This article originally appeared in the Spring/Summer 2023 issue of Maryville Magazine. It has been posted here with edits for clarity.

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