By BRIAN GRAVES
For 25 years, the Voices of Lee have performed everywhere
from small churches to …
For 25 years, the Voices of Lee have performed everywhere from small churches to China.
Wednesday night, they came home.
It was a celebration of sorts as the group marked the release of their new CD, “A Cappella Christmas,” with a live concert of the new recording in Pangle Hall on the campus of Lee University.
It was also their way to give back to their home community as the evening raised more than $3,000 to donate to the Empty Stocking Fund.
Director Danny Murray explained that it was the first Christmas concert the Voices have performed at home in at least two years.
But, 2017 has become a landmark year for the vocal ensemble.
As Murray explained, it started during a break for the group around Mother’s Day.
“We found this song and we started working with it,” Murray said. “I called a few people from the Communications department and told them to bring a camera to the chapel.”
“What A Wonderful Name” became a viral internet hit, garnering more than 43 million views.
The song was so popular, Murray said they had to put it on their new project as a bonus track along with the nine other Christmas melodies.
Recorded in Cleveland, Murray reached out to one of the most prolific producer/artists in gospel music today to help put the CD together.
Gordon Mote is best known for his piano artistry with the Gaither Homecoming programs.
The man Murray calls a “genius” reflects that praise to the 15 members who he guided through the recording sessions as producer.
“There is such a positive energy,” Mote said. “They have more patience than some of the professionals I work with. They are 'in it to win it.' Everybody I work with is that way, but these kids – you can ask them to do something over and over as we’re trying to find the magic thing. And, they are in it with you. They have the patience to chase it with you.”
“It’s fun working with this group,” he added. “They are so incredible. They all sing their faces off. There is so much talent here and a long line waiting to be in this group. But, the kids that are in this group don’t take it for granted. They are very serious about what they do, and many of them will make their living using their voices or their music in some way.”
Mote said even if the singers do not make a career of music, their experiences with the group teach them about life.
“I don’t know if the average person knows how hard these kids work,” Mote said. “They are doing 20-plus Christmas performances this year. They are studying for their final exams. And, they are traveling every weekend. They’ve had two concerts today while they are trying to study. It means a lot to be in this group. It takes a special mindset to do what they do, and they do it better than any group I’ve ever seen.”
Murray said the group has had “a lot of fun things happening” this year.
“The video really kicked things into high gear,” Murray said.
The director said the Voices really began to hit the international stage with their appearance on the nationally aired “The Sing-Off” in 2009.
“Eight hours of primetime coverage on NBC really helped get our name out,” Murray said. “Then, you follow that up and do a lot of touring. It gave us a chance to change some of our style. It was the first time we had ever done a contemporary style.”
He said the success of the recent video still takes him by surprise, but is pleased with the reaction it has gotten.
“We see that people are loving it and we hear how it is touching them. That’s what means the most to us,” Murray said.
He gives the credit for the group’s remarkable success to God.
“We believe that if you stay faithful and do what you are called to do – I went in and worked every day, rehearsed and traveled on the weekends for 15 years before we got that first call from NBC,” Murray said. “That’s not what you are looking for. You want to honor God and honor your calling, but you stay faithful and He’s given his blessing to this.”
Over the past few years, there have been numerous former students making names for themselves on talent programs such as “American Idol” and “The Voice.”
“How about that Brooke Simpson?” Murray says with a smile about the current contestant on “The Voice.”
He says getting the students on those programs is not a pre-planned goal.
“We let these kids follow their dreams and these programs are soliciting us,” Murray said. “I got an email from ‘The Voice’ this week wanting me to send singers. So, they know where we are. They are watching and they are anxious to get our people there to expose their music and, most of all, their heart.”
Lee University President Dr. Paul Conn said The Voices are an important part of the school, noting they tour across the country while still keeping their classwork in check.
“You would think watching them in a concert like tonight, they are just having a good time,” Conn said. “They are a hard-working group.”
“We try very hard to make this a better place to live, and we think the Voices of Lee is one of the primary examples of that,” Conn said. “Their willingness to sing in the community at so many types of events, the pride they bring to Cleveland from all across the country when they sing – it can’t be measured. They are a tool of the Holy Spirit from 'The City with Spirit.'”
“They sing from the church house to the White House and everywhere in between,” said state Rep. Kevin Brooks. “I am so thrilled with this new Christmas project. They represent our community and college so well. Everywhere I go, people comment about the Voices of Lee.”
“When you hear a concert by the Voices of Lee, you haven’t come just for entertainment. You’ve come to worship,” said Mayor Tom Rowland. “That is so important.”
“The Voices of Lee are a Cleveland treasure and they are a treasure for the entire world,” Rowland said.
To obtain a copy of “A Cappella Christmas,” call 423-614-8320 or go to www.voicesoflee.com.
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