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Singing as a family

Members of the Black Celestial Choral Ensemble reflect on the bonds they made over the years as they close out their 34th year of performances.

The members of the Black Celestial Choral Ensemble don't see their choir as just another student organization. Even as they prepare for their 35th anniversary next year, they will do it the best way they know how — as a family.

"We say we're a close-knit family and we are," said Byron Canada, the group's director. "You find your closest friend in the choir. You will go through things with people in the choir."

Photo: Charnice Milton
SU alumnus Byron Canada directs members during a rehearsal in the Noble Room of Hendricks Chapel.

In the weeks leading up to their 34th annual spring concert on April 16, the BCCE reflected on the moments and bonds created during the past year.

The BCCE is just like any student organization on campus. At the end of the spring semester, each member votes for leaders — in the group's case, for each voice group: sopranos, altos, and tenors. They also vote for a director-trainee, a person who will eventually lead the choir after they graduate from Syracuse University. This was the case for the present director, Canada. After joining the BCCE in 2002, he was voted as director-trainee his junior year under then-director Shayla Adams. After graduating in 2007, he replaced her as the director. 

As with any leadership position, it comes with with its own challenges. For senior Jessica Henry, who served as the soprano section leader this year, it's the fact that she isn't that much older than the other members.

"The most challenging thing is just getting people to really hear you demanding respect," Henry said. "But at the same time, it's also challenging for me to give respect at the same time.”

That can sometimes lead to disagreements, which is normal in any organization, according to present director-trainee Brandon Richardson.

"Sometimes we argue, sometimes we disagree," he said. "But I think the difference with BCCE is that, honestly, we're a legit family. And yes, families sometimes bicker, but I feel like I get along with every single person in the choir."

One thing that keeps the choir together is their shared faith. Each rehearsal begins with "circle time," in which members pray for each other, sing, and share favorite Bible verses. It helps them build camaraderie while encouraging each other through assignments and personal matters. This is the aspect sophomore Kristina Sepeda appreciated when she first started with the group.

"I needed to be with believers who would help me and uplift me in my walk with God," she said. "It was God's blessing to me telling me that this was the place I needed to be."

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