Greenville University Gospel Choir given new life
Published: May 23, 2023
Brenda Lancaster and Dwayne VanZandt first made music together when they were teenagers growing up in the St. Louis area. Now, several decades later, they are at it again.
The two friends have taken on the challenge of leading the Greenville University Gospel Choir.
“We’ve both been in gospel music all our lives,” said Lancaster, who serves as the minister of music at her church and directs the gospel choir at Lewis & Clark Community College. VanZandt is retired from a nearly four-decade career at the Olin Corporation in East Alton and also is minister of music at his church. He plays electric piano for the GU Gospel Choir and his son, Jeremiah VanZandt (2026, audio engineering), plays drums.
This spring, Lancaster and VanZandt (pictured at right) traveled to Greenville one day each week for rehearsals. By April, the group was ready to lead worship at two Monday morning Encounter services (a weekly campus worship service that invites students to go deeper in their encounter with God) as well as The Wednesday Experience (a weekly all-campus worship service).
“I thought it was a good beginning,” Lancaster said of the group’s first semester under their direction. “We have a solid core (pictured above) that worked very hard, and now we’re looking for others to join us. We’d like to have 20-25 students in the choir.”
GU Chaplain Keli Pennington is a fan of gospel music because it invites participation by the audience. “The GU Gospel Choir,” she said, “not only introduces us to new songs and styles, but also to important themes within the broader Christian tradition. That helps us to celebrate both the unity and diversity found within God’s kingdom.”
VanZandt said that gospel music is unique in the way it reaches people. “It’s powerful because it touches their heart,” he said. “We want our music to be uplifting and point people to God as they wrestle with life’s challenges.”
Lancaster took an unlikely route to directing the GU Gospel Choir. She came to the University last fall as a student to learn more about the business side of music so she could open doors for young people in her community who were interested in a musical career. That remains a priority for her, but she also felt a nudge from God to direct the university’s gospel choir.
“I began to realize that God had brought me here because he wants a gospel choir at GU,” she said. “Many young people today are having a tough time because there’s a spiritual battle going on in our society. I’m convinced that until we get back to WHO we are and WHOSE we are, things aren’t going to improve. We want our music to heal people’s hearts and give them answers to the tough questions of life.”
VanZandt agrees. “Gospel music talks a lot about saving, healing, and delivering. We all want to be healed and delivered
– whether it be from physical ailments, emotional ailments, or our tendency to slip into sinful patterns. Jesus can free us from all those things, and we want to share that good news with others through our music.”
Students can earn music ensemble credit or audit the gospel choir every fall and spring semester. Gospel choir members learn music by ear, so music reading skills are not required. All students are welcome, regardless of ethnicity, musical experience, or major. Auditions are held during new student orientation in August.