The St. Olaf catalog describes the Gospel Choir as "a mixed ensemble of students of all races, backgrounds, and denominations." Students of African-American, Asian, Latino, and European descent alike are present within the choir. Jesse Horst 06 admires the musical diversity of the group: "It combines people who are extremely talented musically with people who don't have a lot of experience, but enjoy singing." The choir boasts singers ranging from St. Olaf Choir members to students with no previous singing experience; all are equally welcomed by Music Instructor Keith McCutchen, who describes the Gospel Choir membership philosophy as "whosoever will, let them come."
The music performed by the Gospel Choir is as diverse as its membership: McCutchen believes that when looking at the choirs repertoire, one could find "a representative attribute of any given ethnic style ... there is more diversity in gospel styles than people realize." The Gospel Choirs influences encompass many musical spheres, ranging from early spirituals, 1940s and 60s blues, Tommy Dorsey, South African, Latin, Asian, and Caribbean melodies, jazz and classical styles, and contemporary gospel selections. According to McCutchen, "the music itself is a fusion" of not only African-American tradition, but European and international spirituality. "Gospel music is not one-dimensional, but constantly evolving," McCutchen said. "It does reflect a fusion of African and European characteristics as a base, but is inclusive of many others as well." The evolving identity of gospel music is a substantial part of why McCutchen is so passionate about his ensemble.
When McCutchen selects performance pieces for the choir, he seeks music that "aesthetically speaks to the core of gospel tradition," explaining that the text and meaning behind melodies are essential. McCutchen considers his choir "a ministry in song," part of whose purpose is to pay tribute to God. "Gospel music," says McCutchen, "is spiritual music."
The Gospel Choir is unique in that, as McCutchen says, "it strives for a level of excellence, but not at the expense of being a place to worship." Worship and praise are the focal points and highest aims of the ensemble. The Gospel Choir meets only once a week, so the time provided to learn the music is minimal. McCutchen admits that this can be a challenge: "We want to fellowship, worship, and learn some pretty difficult music." However, just as in the biblical parable, the Gospel Choir has taken their talent and multiplied it ten times over: the joy that flows through this ensemble has brought a distinct new flavor to Christian worship on campus.