An interview with Maggie Cohen ’12 by Shira Engel ‘14.
In anticipation of the Ebony Singers 25th Spring Reunion Concert on April 24, I had spoken with Maggie Cohen, member and student of the Ebony Singers gospel choir. Cohen has been singing since middle school and when she got to Wesleyan, she missed having that in her life, but did not want to join a cappella or another formal singing group. She joined Ebony because of the powerful spirituality the choir sings about. Right before their concert, she provided me with some background about Ebony Singers.
Ebony Singers is a gospel choir composed of 150 students. It is also a class, which counts for half a credit and is cross-listed under the African American Studies and Music departments. It is a class because of the time commitment and the energy the students put into it and the end concert. Students come together to sing every Monday night. You don’t have to be Christian to be in it, but they sing Christian music.
Of her experience with Ebony, Maggie says,
“The whole point of Ebony Singers is not necessarily about being fantastic singers. It’s more about interacting with people and getting people to be excited and inspired and to have them be involved so that people who come to the concert feel a part of it. It’s not about being perfect or having the notes exactly right. It’s more about having the energy and heart in what we do.”
Leading up to the concert, the band would come in and the soloists started to practice within the group. Eventually, they practiced in their fancy dress and on the day of, they practiced in the Crowell Concert Hall, the site of the performance.
The concert was my first live gospel performance and Pastor Monts immediately made me feel included, even as an audience member in the back row of a packed concert hall. He went to Wesleyan as an undergrad and this is his twenty-fifth year directing Ebony. Maggie says that he ends every rehearsal by instructing the students to hug their neighbors as he shares a prayer or piece of spiritual guidance. He believes it is a joy to work with college students and to remind them that spiritual grounding can exist through their voices. Judging by the enthusiastic and interactive responses from the audience, that was certainly the case.