LU Praise to perform at major cultural event in China
LU Praise, Liberty University’s premiere gospel choir, is traveling to China next week at the invitation of the China Chorus Association as one of only three U.S. choirs performing at the Hainan 21st Century Maritime Silk Road Choir Festival. Liberty’s group is the only gospel choir invited to attend.
On Saturday, Nov. 18, LU Praise will take part in the festival’s opening ceremonies and perform a 20-minute set of gospel songs as one of the event’s featured groups. LU Praise will hold four additional concerts and host workshops throughout the course of the festival before performing another 15-minute set as part of the closing ceremonies on Nov. 24. The group was selected to participate in a multi-ethnic concert with several other international choirs and to demonstrate and lead workshops on the African American choral performance style.
“The Chinese government has never hosted a gospel choir, ever,” Liberty School of Music Dean Dr. Vernon Whaley, who directs the choir, said. Liberty’s School of Music is the nation’s seventh largest music school.
LU Praise was recommended by the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA), which handpicked Liberty’s choir to perform at its annual gathering in March, the premiere choir directors’ convention in the nation. ACDA is the largest association of conductors in the world with a membership of more than 58,000 musicians.
“The (ACDA) was asked by the festival to select three American choirs that could represent different examples of American choir to the Chinese,” Whaley said. “Doing Western choir is relatively new to the Chinese culture.”
More than 300 Chinese choirs will compete in the event, which is also drawing guest performers from around the world. The event is held on the island of Hainan, the “Chinese Hawaii,” and is part of the nation’s efforts to introduce and encourage diverse culture and arts.
Senior Samuel Petty, a religion major who has been on LU Praise for four years, said this invitation is “a blessing.”
“We’re just honored to first and foremost share the Gospel,” Petty said. “Even though there are limitations because of the country, we’ve been invited to sing gospel music. To me, that’s an honor just to be able to share the Gospel of Jesus; that’s out first purpose. Then, also, it’s an honor to represent the United States, our great nation, in China. Finally, to represent Liberty University, to represent our music program, our professors, our students … (I’m) honored to be a representative, an ambassador of sorts.”
“I am just in constant awe of the way that God keeps blessing us with these huge opportunities,” added graduate student KyLisa Freeman, a six-year veteran of the choir.
LU Praise, founded in 2006, has continued its rise to prominence. On Jan. 21, the group sang two songs at the Inaugural National Prayer Service at the Washington National Cathedral. The Inaugural Prayer Service, a tradition dating back as far as President George Washington, included President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, their families, and invited guests, such as LU President Jerry Falwell, his wife, Becki, and their family. The gospel choir performed for the nation’s president once again in May at Liberty’s Commencement.
“The stages, the opportunities on and off campus, did not happen overnight,” Petty said. “To see how the Lord has expanded our horizons beyond our wildest imaginations, I believe it is the result of faithfulness.”
LU Praise recently completed its first album, “by Faith,” a celebration of the Gospel and the group’s legacy. All of the arrangements were written by Liberty faculty, undergraduate students, and graduate students.
“I believe the album that the Lord gave us the opportunity to do is one of the ways that we can show forth His excellence,” Petty said.
The group leaves for China on Tuesday and will have all expenses in China covered by the festival. LU Praise raised funds in order to make the trip overseas possible. The group received donations from audiences during church and premiere venue performances nationwide and was even given a personal donation by West Virginia Governor Jim Justice.
At the end of the day, it is not the height of the stage or the size of the audience that matters for Liberty’s choir members. What matters is who they are glorifying.
“I have seen a lot,” Freeman said, “traveled to a lot of places, and met a lot of great people, but I can truly say that there is just something so surreal about worshiping God with my brothers and sisters. There is nothing like it. That is honestly the best part about singing with this team.”
LU Praise is a 28-member gospel concert choir that serves as an official representative team for Liberty University’s Center for Music & Worship. The group performs various styles of music used in the African-American choral tradition, including but not limited to: black gospel, gospel song, spirituals, hymns, Scripture song, and sacred classic.