Gospel musician and licensed life-coach Minister Eli Wilson Jr. was the guest speaker at the 2013
Voices of Praise (VOP) Spring Workshop. The event was held in Lambert Recital Hall Feb. 7-9.
VOP members, as well as community members, surrounding schools and Maryville College alumni,
were invited to participate in the 3-day workshop.
As time permitted, vocal technique and training were discussed, as songs were presented during
the longer workshop sessions. During these longer sessions, songs were selected that would be both
encouraging, as well as meaningful, to the participants and the listeners.
Wilson had only two days of intensive practice to teach students and the house band seven original
compositions before a performance was to be held on the following day to showcase VOP’s new
repertoire and work.
Through a long tradition of gospel music, VOP has provided students with freedom, passion and
power through expression. Aspects of the style, such as melisma, modifying vowels, rhythms, following
a gospel director, listening to a chord and matching pitch were some of the concepts covered during the
context of rehearsals.
Most attendees said that they were surprised by how Wilson helped them to perform. He had
students clapping, singing, moving and singing at the top of their lungs.
Selected singers were chosen for solos, and were challenged with different vocal techniques such as
ping, forward sound, going between a blended breathy sound and a belt voice for effect, and riffing and
“I loved helping the students realize they can do much more than they previously thought, reaching
their own great potential,” Wilson said.
Onyeka Ononye, a junior at MC and present of VOP, said that she particularly enjoyed the downtime
the students had with Wilson during the workshop.
“Because of what he taught us, we can never put a limit on our abilities anymore,” Ononye said.
On the afternoon of the performance, Wilson shared with VOP his feelings about working with them
for the intensive weekend.
“It was delightful to work with young people so willing and ready to learn,” Wilson said within his
speech to them. “I don’t run into a lot of young adults that are so warm and open to new ideas. I am
truly thankful for being introduced to this Maryville College experience. “
After the positive message from Wilson and a word of prayer, the workshop concert began. The hour-
long presentation consisted of all the material that Wilson taught to the group in the previous two days.
This was one of the very few times Larry Ervin, director of multicultural affairs and VOP director, was
able to sit in the audience.
“They said I couldn’t do it,” Ervin said. “I’ve never sat in the audience because I’m always directing.
But I wasn’t just sitting, I was still worshipping with the group.”
Ervin said that he was pleased that students felt encouraged by the end of the workshop, and that
those who were absent missed an opportunity for growth.
“It was a great, fresh start to hopefully help students in the group, as well as others, understand the
value in what we do,” Ervin said. “Singing is a ministry that affects lives, opens eyes and heals those that
need strength and encouragement. This workshop challenged us in ways that made us a stronger group.
We are better off as a group because of this experience.”
Several VOP members that participated in the workshop agreed that they saw the value in the
weekend spent learning from Wilson.
“VOP members really bonded because of what we went through,” Ononye said. “We became more
comfortable with each other and ourselves.”
“We had to learn seven songs in two days,” said Sara Jean Philippe, a senior and member of VOP.
“We struggled together, we rolled together and, at the end of the day, we were laughing together and
having a good time.”
Ononye said that the group has many new and diverse songs to perform after the workshop,
including some in Latin style.
“All the new music makes us really excited for our upcoming tour to Memphis,” Philippe said. “We
have such a great variety of songs this year. It makes us that much more excited to sing them.”
During VOP’s annual spring tour, they will perform at several different churches and school events
in Memphis, Tenn., where they plan to demonstrate both the songs and techniques they learned from
Wilson during the workshop.