Coon Rapids gospel group emerges from book club

When students in Coon Rapids High School’s (CRHS) Breakfast Book Club, a pre-school gathering held every Friday, saw a “60 Minutes” story about Vy Higginsen, who started “Gospel for Teens” in Harlem, they were inspired to begin a gospel choir at the school.

Coon Rapids High School students Ekow Nana-Kweson, Grace Kalala, Devota Irishura and Beryl Sang help lead the school’s new Gospel Choir.
Coon Rapids High School students Ekow Nana-Kweson, Grace Kalala, Devota Irishura and Beryl Sang help lead the school’s new Gospel Choir.

The students received the full support of Portia McClain, CRHS student learning advocate, because she felt the choir would give some students not involved in school activities something to be a part of.

Since forming earlier this year, the Gospel Choir has performed at the district’s Martin Luther King Jr. Jamboree, a few events at CRHS and the students have been asked to sing the “Star Spangled Banner” at an upcoming track meet.

The students also performed for Superintendent Dennis Carlson at a Breakfast Book Club meeting.

Devota Irishura, Grace Kalala, Beryl Sang and Ekow Nana-Kweson have enjoyed being part of the 15-member choir and are proud that the effort has been student lead and has grown by word-of-mouth.

“When the idea came up, I agreed to it because I thought it would be cool,” Kalala said.

“We talked how to get started, what songs we would do and what parts we needed. It started out all girls, but we knew we needed guys for base and tenor so we started to talk to people about it.”

Although many of the members are in the school’s choirs, the students were interested in starting a gospel choir because the school choirs do not sing gospel music and it was a new experience they wanted to have.

In addition to offering students more variety of music, it’s an opportunity for students to sing who don’t necessarily what to take a choir class.

Their experience as members of the school choir, as well as church choirs, was very helpful as they put their choir together.

One of the students’ favorite songs is “Praise Him in Advance,” by Marvin Sapp.

Sang said the words are very inspiring and Irishura said the choir has worked to make it their own.

“We sing songs that are encouraging,” Nana-Kweson said.

The students are starting to get recognized by their peers for their work.

Sang said she was recently asked by another student when the choir would next perform. Gospel members have been told their music is touching and brings people to tears.

“We’ve surprised everyone,” Nana-Kweson said. “Because we are student led people were skeptical if we would be serious or good.”

“Every performance we are ready and we deliver,” Irishura said.

The students said in addition to singing, the experience gives students an opportunity to work on team building, leadership and communication skills.

McClain agrees. “It’s been a phenomenal experience,” she said.

“The students are excited, dedicated and love what they are doing. They talk about gospel choir all the time and their interest in having chances to perform. It’s also getting them more tuned into school.

“For some kids it gives them a direction and a confidence they didn’t have before.”

McClain said she is very proud of the students. Because it is doing so well it is attracting students to join not only the choir, but the Breakfast Book Club as well, she said.

“The Gospel Choir is very good,” McClain said. “The school is lucky to have them.”

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