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BME Turns Praises Into Prizes

On March 17, Berea College’s Black Music Ensemble (BME) brought down the house at the second annual College Choir Explosion in Louisville, Ky. Winning first place and tying for the people's choice award, BME’s performance of gospel songs “Matthew 28” and “Let’s Dance” earned the choir nearly $6,000 dollars in prize money.

BME performs under the direction of Lamont Hill at the College Choir Explosion*

The competition was open to college gospel choirs throughout the entire southeast region of the United States. BME was selected as one of seven ensembles to perform at the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts, thereby receiving $500 simply for being chosen. Gospel groups from the University of Louisville, Lane College, the University of Central Oklahoma, the University of Kentucky, Western Kentucky University and Wilberforce University gave BME a run for the money.

Lamont Hill, student director and president of BME, led the ensemble in its award-winning performance in place of Director Kim Wilson, who had given birth to a baby girl just one week prior to the contest. “I was extremely nervous," says Hill of learning that he would be in charge. "The two songs that were chosen were not songs that I usually direct so I just wanted to make sure that I was confident and, at the same, time keeping the choir motivated.”

Wilson recalls her emotions after learning of the win, saying, “I was so excited I was trembling. At first I could hardly believe it. I think that it wasn't until about the third text message saying 'We Won!' that I actually began to believe it. After it began to settle in that BME had just won, I broke down in tears.”

Through long hours of rehearsals and practices led by Wilson and Hill, BME perfected its vocal performance and presentation. Hill reflects on the long practices and, at times, tiring preparations for the competition, saying, “We usually broke off into our sections and the section leaders taught parts of the songs. One of the challenges that we faced was in our last rehearsal. We didn't have our full band, but nevertheless, we worked it out.”

The night’s selections of “Matthew 28” and “Let’s Dance” were chosen through the thoughtful planning and preparation of both Wilson and Hill. “We were only given 10 minutes to perform and a second over would cause us to be penalized," explains Wilson. "So we tried to pick songs that would not only fit into this time limit but also had a message."

“We agreed on the two songs ‘Matthew 28’ and ‘Let's Dance’ because they really show a lot of musical diversity, versatility, energy and movement," adds Hill. "More importantly we were able to sing about the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

In addition to its stellar vocals, BME’s diversity set the group apart at the competition. People of many races and nationalities make up the 67-member family. Valton Jackson, a junior member, comments on the diversity: “I think it’s beautiful. Gospel music is something that everyone can relate to, and I feel Dr. Bullock (who is on sabbatical) and Mrs. Kim encourage that wholeheartedly. In fact, BME was probably the most interracial ensemble in this year’s competition, and I feel that diversity in a group is not only ideal but also essential for success.”

“I personally love the diversity," claims Danielle Roark, a sophomore. "I love seeing how everyone can worship the same wonderful God in many different ways!”

After the announcement of the first place, $5,000 winner by Charla Young, a news anchor from WAVE 3 TV in Louisville and emcee for the event, cheers of excitement thundered through the auditorium. BME members embraced and celebrated the win along with family and Berea alumni.

“BME has been a true blessing to many of us and I am so proud of our choir," says Hill, reflecting on the accomplishment. " Our theme for this semester is: 'With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible' (Matthew 19:26) and we have found it to be true."

A DVD of the College Choir Explosion is currently in production, but clips from the competition are now available on YouTube. Additionally, photographer Leonard Boulware has photos from the event available to purchase from his Web site (password: explosion).

*Photo courtesy of Leonard Boulware, Starlight Photos

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