OGDEN — The 19th annual WSU Gospel Music Festival comes to Weber State University this weekend.
The festival begins at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 25, in the Browning Center’s Austad Auditorium on campus, 3848 Harrison Blvd. Doors open at 7 p.m.
Festival organizer Andrea Hernandez, the Diversity & Inclusive Programs coordinator at Weber State University, said the theme for this year’s festival is “Shine Your Light.”
“We want folks attending to remember that despite the challenges and obstacles they face, people around them have light and are there to illuminate one another’s path,” she told the Standard-Examiner. “I feel like the country is very divided right now with all the different issues going on, so it’s super important to come together as a community.”
Hernandez said “Shine Your Light” also meshes nicely with the theme for this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration, which was “#unity.”
Five singing groups will be featured on the program, including the Weber State University Concert Choir, the Kids Are Music Children’s Choir, the Tongan Youth Mass Choir, the New Hope Fellowship and Remnant Gospel Group, and the New Zion Sound of Praise Choir.
Emcee for the evening will be Pastor Ron Brown of New Hope Fellowship, in Clearfield.
“We always ask our choirs ahead of time to think of songs that would go along with the theme,” Hernandez said. “So they’ve picked out music that is a similar theme to ‘Shine Your Light.’”
Hernandez said hosting the festival allows the university to not only entertain, but educate people, as well as provide space for different groups to celebrate their community.
“It’s not just for people who look like you, but people who don’t look like you,” she said. “As a very conservative and Mormon area, it’s super important for historically marginalized people to keep practicing our traditions — where we don’t live in a bubble, or where the universe looks a certain way. It’s important to educate others.”
Hernandez said the spirit of the festival is about having tough conversations, but also about being able to sympathize with and understand one another. She said they’re trying to develop a real community aspect to this year’s festival, which dovetails nicely with the theme.
“We want folks to know that we all have lights within us that can help other as well,” she said.
The festival is free and open to the public. Donations of canned goods or other nonperishable food items are encouraged; donations go to Weber Cares, the campus-based pantry that provides assistance to students, faculty and staff.
Although organizers of the festival tell choirs they understand that gospel music is grounded in Christian-based faiths, Hernandez said they encourage the singers to seek a mixture of songs. For example, she said the Kids are Music group will be performing a country song that talks more about community, and uplifting one another.
“The values we learn within a traditional Christian church can be applicable to the values in a community and everyday life,” she said. “This festival isn’t only exclusive of Christian-based faiths. This is for anyone who wants to share the music they use for worship.”
At each year’s festival, audience members are invited to join in the performance of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” often referred to as the Black National Anthem. Hernandez encourages those in attendance to bring a copy of the lyrics if they’re unfamiliar with the song.
And while Hernandez says the festival involves a majority of African-American singers, and traditions are deeply rooted in the troubled history of race in America, she said all are welcome to embrace this gospel music.
“If we educate properly, it shows the power we can have to share traditions respectfully, and not in a mocking manner,” she said. “That spirit of gospel music is there, and it just clicks with everyone. And it has to do with the history of enslavement, and resistance, and the coming up from this horrible place and trying to find some hope in it. You feel that kind of spirit within the festival.”