Mr. Larry Ervin, the founder of Voices of Praise (VOP), has dedicated his heart and soul to this Maryville College Gospel Choir to create a family that presents an old tradition but fresh in approach and outreach of celebrating God. The warm, loving man has devoted more than 25 years of his life to the choir.
“This group of young people represents all facets of the school’s population,” stated Ervin on the Maryville College website. “The group was started to give minorities pride in an aspect of their culture. This group has grown beyond the black and white to the spiritual renewing and strengthening that we all get from being a part of this cup of Christ. We were made to praise.”
“I enjoy the blessing of sharing something so important in life with young people because it will allow them to continue to share it with others in their lives,” continued Ervin.
Even though his life is devoted to the choir group, there are negatives to the job. One of the most notable negatives that Ervin mentioned was the energy of the audience. Sometimes the audience doesn’t know how to express their emotions of the performance, and that leaves the choir feeling unappreciated.
In the early years of VOP at a black history month performance, Ervin had to emphasize to the students not to worry about the audience.
“The students in the choir were upset because the audience sat on their hands, quiet,” stated Ervin. “The audience didn’t know how to join in on the worship. The choir felt as if they weren’t being respected, and they were hesitant on singing again.
“The students should sing for the celebration of God and not for the gratitude of the crowd,” said Ervin.
Senior Alex McCullough learned Ervin’s lesson early that singing for God was the only thing that mattered in the choir. Sophomore year, he went to a small, broken down church in a rough part of Knoxville surrounded by rundown and abandoned homes.
He immediately felt out of his element. He was in the place that society told him to steer clear of. The moment McCullough stepped off that bus to shake the hands of the community members, he was greeted with love and understanding.
Although he was not the only white person in the choir, there were confused faces when he stepped forward to lead worship because he was a white man in a black church leading worship.
McCullough could not hear the members of the audience, but he could tell there were whispers in the crowd. When Ervin pointed at him to sing, the faces of the crowd expressed more confusion. With the encouragement of Ervin and other members of the VOP choir, McCullough had the courage to praise the Lord in front of all those confused faces.
“Faces washed away with an anointing that I couldn’t have expected even if I knew it was coming,” stated McCullough. “No one really leaves the family. Only more people join it,” stated McCullough
“VOP is family. Sometimes we can’t stand each other, but we love each other,” said sophomore Brynn Follas.
The VOP family has been to several workshops to learn new music and understand the historical significance of the songs. A lot of the VOP members say their favorite part of the choir is the workshops because of the experience and bonding.
“Attending the gospel workshop at Berea College last year is where I finally understood the historical significance of Gospel with a 20-minute praise,” said senior GinnyLyne Guisadio.
As for Junior Tatyania Watts, her favorite experience was the most recent workshop.
The workshop had the group learn eight new songs in less than 24 hours to be performed at one of the VOP board member’s home church, Greater Mount Moriah FBH (Fire-Baptized Holiness) Church in Knoxville. It was the church’s seventh anniversary, and they invited VOP to share that celebration with them.
Other events that VOP have performed at Maryville College this year include Martin Luther King Jr. celebration, homecoming, and freshman orientation.Events coming soon will occur next semester, another workshop and a concert.
The workshop will be held in February at one of the VOP member’s home church like in previous years. It will not be determined who’s church until next semester. The same goes for the concert; all that is known is it will be in April.
Ervin is teaching the choir to adapt to outside leadership, practice, and performing in a short amount of time. This is teaching the group the ability to change under different circumstances when needed. To learn more about VOP, contact Larry Ervin at [email protected].