LU Praise Heads to China for Choir Festival
- LU Praise will join the Wheaton Men’s (Glee Club) and Houston Children’s (Chorus) in representing America at the 2017 Hainan Maritime Silk Road Choir Festival.
- The choir hopes to represent Christ in a nation where the Chinese government runs and appoints priests for churches.
Liberty University’s gospel concert choir, LU Praise, was invited by the Chinese government to sing in the 2017 Hainan (21st-Century Maritime Silk Road) Choir Festival Nov. 18—24 in Hainan Island, China.
The 30-member choir will leave the evening of Tuesday, Nov. 14 from Charlotte Douglas International Airport and return to campus Monday, Nov. 27 following both the choir festival in China and a performance at Capo Beach Church Sunday, Nov. 26, in Capistrano Beach, California.
Dr. Vernon Whaley, director of LU Praise and dean of the School of Music, Dr. Ronald Hawkins, provost and chief academic officer of Liberty University, and their wives will travel with the choir as sponsors for the trip. Whaley will also serve as an adjudicate for the competition.
“(The Chinese government) approached the American Choral Directors Association … and asked them if they would select three choirs from America that would represent the ACDA and demonstrate the different kinds of choir in America,” Whaley said. “They … selected the Wheaton Men’s (Glee Club), which is a really fine men’s group, the Houston Children’s (Chorus) and LU Praise.”
LU Praise will perform in the opening and closing ceremonies of the choir festival and have two additional concerts during the week. The choir will also perform one song with other choirs during the opening ceremony.
Whaley explained that the group will be performing some traditional spirituals, old hymns, African-American gospel favorites and praise and worship songs, all with LU Praise’s signature style of mixing African-American choir traditions with traditional praise and worship music. While most gospel choirs are casual in presentation, LU Praise is much more disciplined— something Whaley described as, “a phenomenon in the gospel community.”
“It’s a big deal for the United States to be invited to do this … It’s an even bigger deal for a school, a Christian school, to be invited to this,” Whaley said. “I said, ‘What do you want us to do? We do gospel music.’ They said, ‘Come do what you do.’ So, we’re going to sing about Jesus. Period.”
Though Christianity is not illegal in China, the Chinese government runs and appoints priests for registered churches. With this model, the Chinese Communist Party attempts to reconcile communism to Christianity. Because of the stark differences in values, many Chinese Christians have opted to start underground churches at the risk of harassment and detention, according to BBC News.
“I think part of the reason they were kind of okay with us (being from a Christian school) is because … we’re not going under the title of missionary group,” Nicole Miller, a junior at Liberty and member of LU Praise, said. “We’re going as an artist group.”
To prepare for the trip, the group has been working since last semester to raise money for plane tickets and other expenses. The Chinese government will take care of expenses once LU Praise arrives on Hainan Island, but the group still needed to raise about $49,000.
“We’ve been raising a lot of money … a lot of local travel has gone on— going to churches and asking for love offerings,” Miller said. “We’ve been praying a lot just in our own independent time and during rehearsals.”
Miller also mentioned that the group fasted Monday, Nov. 13 in preparation for the trip.
Aside from this opportunity, LU Praise has also had many unique opportunities to perform. For example, the choir sang at an inaugural prayer service before President Donald Trump’s inauguration Jan. 21.
According to Miller, the group has been offered opportunities to sing in other countries in the past but are often unable to accept the invitations abroad. Because these opportunities are rare, Miller said her excitement was in contrast to veterans of LU Praise, who were not expecting to be able to go on the trip based on past experiences.
“I’m just excited to go there and experience a different culture because I’ve never gotten to do that before.” Miller said.