Jay’Len Boone, a sophomore currently attending the University of Texas at San Antonio, has more to offer the college campus than good grades and exceptional campus involvement. During the fall of 2016, as a freshman student, Boone helped revive and pioneer UTSA’s first successful gospel choir, Voices in Praise.
Through his musical gifts, talents and ideologies, Boone helped direct Voices in Praise (VIP) to substantial heights through his heart of worship and willingness to be stretched within his role of leadership.
Through commitment and the spreading of the gospel through song, the choir has the potential to minister to those who hear the group’s music and encourage others to connect with God through scripture filled songs that emit joy all around.
Boone’s experience as a performing musician and skills passed on through past generations has equipped him to shape the choir into a group that operates in ways that other choirs can’t. The gospel choir is designed as a place where voices unite in praise, not for the sole purpose of mere singing, but in true worship to God that qualifies them as a growing ministry.
Briana Perez: What inspired you to help pioneer and revive a gospel choir at UTSA?
Jay’Len Boone: It’s crazy because I had been performing in a competition during the week I was asked to join the choir. There were these two girls there who came up to me after the show, one was my friend Judith and the other was a girl who was a member of a group called Aspiring Stars.
The girl from Aspiring Stars came up to me and said, “You’re great; and we’re looking for a director to be over our music,” and I immediately thought, “Wow, that’s so cool!” I had been looking for something like that in college and the opportunity had just opened for me.
But then right after, in the same moment, Judith came up to me and said, “Hey, we’re trying to revive a gospel choir, and we think you’d be a great asset to the team.”
It was so weird because it felt like I was placed at a crossroads. Looking back, God was asking me, “Do you want to go down this route or this other route,” and during that time I had also been writing music that wasn’t good, that wasn’t helping anyone in the world, and I knew I was at a place where I had to make a choice and in the end, I chose to go with VIP.
BP: Let’s say someone doesn’t know what a gospel choir is, how would you describe it?
JB: It’s not what people automatically think. It’s not just old songs that black people sing at church. Gospel music is so much more than that.
It’s a repertoire of music that doesn’t require notes on a page. It requires feeling, soul and happiness; it unites people. Gospel music was the heartbeat of the Civil Rights Movement. It was the heartbeat of the plantation fields during times of slavery. It was the heartbeat that united not only people of color but all people.
When I think of what gospel music means to me, I always think back to the Martin Luther King Jr. era and how gospel music was such a huge thing during that time. The church was a place of refuge where you could feel safe, and our members always say that the choir is a place where they can feel safe. Gospel gives a place of freedom and brings happiness.
BP: Is gospel only music? What is gospel?
JB: Gospel in the text, when translated means, “good news.” It refers to the Bible and the Bible is the gospel. Gospel is the good news, and so what gospel music is, it’s the telling of good news through song. The songs sung glorify God, they describe who he is, what he has done and it inspires and encourages people to want to know more about who this God is to them.
It’s amazing, there are some students who come in who aren’t Christians and don’t know who God is, but through these songs, the gospel is communicated to their hearts about who God is. It’s so powerful because it’s another form of witnessing and proclaiming.
BP: Do you think it’s important for a college campus to have a gospel choir?
JB: Absolutely. It was a surprise to me to know that UTSA didn’t have a gospel choir and honestly, it infuriated me. When I compared this campus in juxtaposition to those around, it was one of the only schools in Texas who didn’t have a gospel choir. I thought to myself, “UTSA has to have one.”
A gospel choir can literally be the one thing that a student can come to a college campus and be the most excited about. So, it had to be brought back.
BP: What have you learned from directing the gospel choir?
JB: I’ve definitely learned more about myself. When I first started, because I was only a freshman, I would tend to get walked over a lot, but I think now I’ve learned to be a better leader. Most of all, by being a good leader, I’ve learned how to listen.
Being a director has made me appreciate the directors I’ve had in life and respect all that they go through. Directing for me is constantly figuring out how I can make everyone happy while still helping us to grow when I’m telling the truth about how we sound, and it’s taken me some time, but I’ve learned to develop a thick skin.
Leading this choir has helped me to be a better leader in my classes as well, it’s helped me to be a better worshiper and an even better minister. It really gives me a fresh outlook on what it truly means to sacrifice and devote my time.
BP: In addition to what you’ve learned, what kind of impact do you want the choir to have on others? And what are some things that others can get from being in the choir?
JB: Honestly, I want the choir to want to make an impact. What the choir instills now is that it’s more than just singers, but worshipers. Everywhere the choir goes, it’s important to not only put on a show but make sure that people are touched and changed by our singing. It’s important that by our worshipping, people are saved and enriched on who God is.
I always say that it’s more than just a song, the messages that are sung have the power and have the ability to save people, to help them and guide them. When the choir goes to places to perform, people come up wanting to know how they can get plugged in, how they can find out more about this God that is sung about and how they can get the happiness that they see. It’s only by the devotion that they see that happiness.
Devotion in everyone’s own lives is how you can make an impact, it always starts with you, and with that kind of impact, I’m always wanting to make an impact that brings happiness to the community, and gives this school a lively feel.
I want others to know with assurance that the God the choir sings about is a God of love and happiness and that those who see the choir on stage can have that as well.