Gospel Choir To Form at Manchester; DEI Initiative Fund Provides Instruments

Miriam Erbaugh

With recent support from the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Initiatives Fund, Dr. Alicia Dailey is bringing her five-year long dream to life and creating a student-run gospel choir to celebrate diversity on Manchester University’s campus.

The choir, which will be open to all students who are interested, will begin in the fall or potentially as soon as this spring; essentially as soon as Dr. Dailey has gathered a core group of students enough to sing harmonies. The donations to the DEI Initiatives Fund will cover the startup cost of equipment and instruments, including a Hammond theater organ keyboard, a sound system, tambourines and a drum set.

For Dr. Dailey, Associate Professor of Social Work, music is a deep passion. “Music as a whole is so important to me because so much of my life, my work life, is left brained,” she explained. “It’s the logic. When I use my right brain for music, I’m free; it gives me a break from work and it’s a good stress reliever. I can get lost in music and just play for hours and it just feels like a few minutes.”

Dr. Dailey first developed her interest in music because of her parents, both of whom were church musicians and music teachers in the Indianapolis Public Schools. “We were required growing up to play two instruments,” Dr. Dailey said. “We had to play piano, and then we could choose another instrument.”

Though Dr. Dailey played in multiple bands and ensembles throughout her childhood, she pivoted to playing mainly gospel music in college— a genre which remains her style of choice today. “I love to do improvisation,” she said. “I love to just hear something in my head and then try to play it; that’s what I love. I don’t read music that well anymore. I used to; but since college and on, I focus mainly on songs that I enjoy and to embellish the songs and enhance the songs.”

Starting a gospel choir at Manchester has been a vision of Dr. Dailey’s since August 2017. “I wanted a multicultural experience for all students,” Dr. Dailey explained. “It was since that first semester the first year that I have had that on my heart, but now it seems like things are starting to move.”

Dr. Dailey explained that gospel music is a genre marked by rhythm, movement, hand-clapping and improvisation. “Gospel music also has a message,” she continued. “It’s a message of the experiences we’ve gone through and no matter how terrible the experience has been—because something gospel music talks about is suffering—there is always a note of hope. That no matter how bad things are, there is a God who loves you and cares for you and will see you through it.”

As far as her dreams for the gospel choir, Dr. Dailey emphasized the power of the music itself. “Music has a message that can get through when words themselves cannot get through,” she said. “It’s the beat and the harmony: all of those things make a message more deliverable.” She explained that she believes that racial reconciliation should start with religious groups, conversations which can start with the common enjoyment of music.

“I really want this choir to be an instrument of peace,” she said. “There are racial tensions in this area because there are towns in the area that are predominantly white, and diversity is lacking. It’s not the most welcoming atmosphere for Black people and other people of color, but mainly Black people. I want this choir to be an instrument of racial reconciliation and healing. The music is one way to help break down those barriers.”

Currently Dr. Dailey is focused on recruiting students. “We just need the folks,” she declared enthusiastically. She hopes to find 12 to 15 singers to create the organization. Choir members will not need to have prior musical knowledge such as being able to read music because they will learn songs by “rote, rather than note.”

“Just be able to carry a tune and keep the time,” Dr. Dailey said with a smile.