Editor's note: This story was updated May 18, 2015.
By the time Annual Conference 2015 opens at Bethune-Cookman University (B-CU), the spring semester will be a fading memory and many students will be enjoying summer break.
Even so, chorale director Damon Dandridge didn’t have any trouble recruiting students and even some chorale alumni to lend their voices to the event.
“That speaks to their commitment and dedication to this organization,” he said.
Like faith in Jesus Christ, music has the power to unite people of different generations and create lasting relationships, Dandridge said. In keeping with the conference theme of “Next Generations: Together in the Baptismal Waters,” he decided to invite former Bethune-Cookman chorale members to join students in a performance for conference attendees during the evening session Thursday, June 11.
Fresh from a performance at the university’s graduation ceremony this week, he had not selected the music for that evening, but he said he expects the conference theme to lead him to some traditional hymns, along with spirituals or gospel selections. He anticipates the choir will be about 35 members strong that night.
Returning from Detroit where she is undergoing cancer treatments will be Destinee McEwen, 18, the youngest member of the chorale. She said the vocal ensemble under Dandridge's direction is the reason she enrolled at B-CU, and the singers have treated her like family. Her mother died some years ago, she explained, and her twin sister is studying in Ohio.
McEwen, an alto singer and rising sophomore at B-CU, participated in chorus during her years at a performing arts high school in Detroit and in 2013 sang at New York's Carnegie Hall with a women's ensemble. Also that year, she won a contest to sing the national anthem for President Barack Obama.
She said she has enjoyed attending the United Methodist school and performing in Florida Conference churches, so the opportunity to perform for the whole conference was something she didn't want to miss.
She is pursuing a double major in music and psychology and has an internship this summer at a Detroit hospital, where she can explore opportunities in those fields.
"I really, really love music," she said. "For me, it helps me get through my day. ... Music is just like a healing thing for me."
Carlin Daniels, a senior at Bethune-Cookman majoring in business management, will be singing bass. He hails from Sarasota but is staying in Daytona to take summer classes. He hopes to go on to graduate school after completing his studies at Bethune-Cookman, with a goal of becoming a management analyst or possibly a college professor.
He has been part of the chorale since his freshman year and sang in his high school choir before that.
“Music has always been a love of mine, since I was very young,” he said.
The chorale, with its history dating back to the early days of the school founded by the late Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, was a natural for him to join, Daniels said.
“We’re a very close-knit group,” he said. “It’s almost like a family, like brothers and sisters, not just in the chorale but outside of the chorale.”
He said he is happy to be part of the group at a church event like the Annual Conference.
“I’m looking forward to being blessed by (performing) and to being a blessing to someone else.”
– Susan Green is the Florida Conference managing editor.