Making a joyful noise

As a punt returner for the University of Oregon football team, Andiel Brown could get the whole stadium rocking when he dashed up field with the ball in this hands. As director of gospel choirs and ensembles at the University of Oregon, Brown can still get people rocking as he leads his singers in making a joyful noise.

The University Gospel Ensembles typically perform a combination of traditional gospel songs and such modern classics as “Thank You” by Boyz II Men and “Joyful Joyful” from the movie “Sister Act 2.”

Andiel Brown leads the gospel choirBrown, a graduate of Cleveland High School in Portland, has been moving to the sound of gospel music all of his life.  He grew up in a family of 8 children who sang in the church choir as well as at home.

“My mom used to encourage us to sing together every day for at least an hour,” Brown said. “My brother, who is the real musical genius in the family, would pick the song, and he and my sister would disperse the harmonies among the rest of us.”

As a student at the UO, Brown was a member of the UO Repertoire Singers, Gospel Choirs, and University Singers. When he was selected to lead UO’s gospel choirs in 2008, most people knew Brown as a standout punt returner on the football team. But the challenge that Brown took on as director of three separate gospel choirs was perhaps even greater than making the team as a walk-on.

All three of the choirs were filled mostly with students who had never even listened to gospel music, much less sung it.

“The challenges were evident on the first day,” he recalled. “Gospel was a new sound that they had to acclimate to – it has a totally different rhythm, and that may take years to learn.”

However, with patience, humor and teaching through the method of “call and response,” Brown was able to not only teach the students to sing gospel, but to build an award- winning program in a very short time.

Last summer, the Gospel Singers (the most advanced of the three gospel choirs that Brown directs) took the gold medal (see video) at the inaugural Disney Gospel Choir Fest at Disney World in Orlando.

At the time of the invitation, there were no travel funds in the budget, Brown said, but the trip was made possible with the help from the School of Music and Dance, the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity and the President’s office, along with some fundraising efforts he directed with the students.

For Brown, bringing home the gold medal was just one of the thrills of the Disney Fest.  After winning, the choir was invited to sing on a stage in Disney World.

“Some of the biggest names in gospel music were there,” Brown said. “People like Smokie Norfol, tobyMac and Kirk Franklin performed.  And here we are, singing on the same stage.”

On Sunday, the audience in Beall Hall will be treated not only to the fabulous sounds of the gospel choirs, but to the enthusiasm and energy of the director who pulled that music from within them.

-- Rita Radostitz