The Academy: Ottawa’s Gospel Music Community Choir

by MacAndrew Clarke

Since its inception in 2013, The Academy choir has been blessing Ottawa with rich, diverse, and uplifting gospel music. As The Academy started to form, it was during a time where gospel choirs were prevalent in the city and participation was high. Although the number of choirs have declined, The Academy continues its mission by ministering through music while seeking out opportunity to serve the community. I was able to catch up with the choir director, Minster Paul Wilson, and one of the choir’s core members, Debbieann Braham, in order to get a deeper understanding of the choir, its mandate, and their plans for the future.

“We got together to sing out of a need that I felt was in Ottawa,” said Min. Wilson. He explains that the choir scene in 2013 was large, in part due to young people from local churches who liked to sing gospel, travel, and minister outside of the church. In fact, the gospel scene in Ottawa can be traced as far back as 1970 where Paul cites the Emmanuel Apostolic Church as being a community where young people could “express how they felt” through gospel music. Debbieann, who was also a member of the church, spoke on how choirs were perceived at that time. “It was the big thing to be old enough to be on the [youth] choir” she said. However, times have changed since then and interest has dwindled. Nevertheless, The Academy remained and continues to be passionate about their ministry.

One of the mandates of the choir is to raise awareness of gospel music in Canada and to develop an understanding and appreciation of all styles of gospel music. “My vision of the choir is to develop a body of singers that are able to sing all styles of gospel music, comfortably. I want them to be a leader in the community of Gospel singers,” says Paul. Debbieann refers to this on a more personal level by mentioning that her current skills and understanding of gospel music have been enhanced since she became a member of The Academy. “When I started, I had a very base understanding. I didn’t know there was such a thing as Soprano, Alto, Tenor. I didn’t have a really strong voice,” she said. “Now people come up to me and say: ‘you’re my favorite Alto!’”

Since the founding of The Academy, Paul states that: “…people are more aware of gospel music.” He explains that some people had a singular view of what gospel music was, depending on what they were exposed to. So for example, if someone had more exposure to praise and worship, or a hymnal type of gospel music, then they may assume that gospel only reflects those styles. However, as Debbieann explains, gospel music is so much more than that: “We can tackle different topics within [gospel music] and still find a way to give God praise. So, you can talk about the person living on the street, or people struggling financially, or mental illness.” Overall Debbieann attributes the success of the choir’s mandate to the fact that: “…people are hearing messages they can relate to.”

In addition to bringing encouragement and uplift to the community through song, The Academy is exploring opportunities to go out into the community and help those in need. Paul explains this approach by stating that his understanding of gospel music ministry should include being able to: ”…go outside of the four corners of the church and be able to speak to people and encourage them as well.” Debbieann elaborates by saying: “It’s kind of hard to just talk about Jesus, or talk about how great God is, but people have different situations and those needs aren’t being met. But when you meet people’s needs, and when you help them, that is the first demonstration of the love of Christ.” That said, The Academy plans to achieve this aspect of their ministry by volunteering in soup kitchens, raising money for charities, and identifying any other possibilities to help those in need. Also, the choir will be hosting auditions for those who are interested in joining.

Auditions are scheduled for Thursday, May 12, at the Cornerstone House of Refuge Apostolic Church, located at 1196 Wellington Street. “Give it a try,” says Debbieann. She explains that in addition to learning singing techniques, there’s also an opportunity for growth,  camaraderie, and “Paul’s a great teacher.” Paul mentions that since performing for last year’s Black History Month celebrations, the community has been asking for more. “But with a small group,” says Debbieann, “we end up missing out on opportunities. So, don’t be afraid. There are all levels of skill in this choir. We’re all growing together.” Additional details about the choir and upcoming auditions can be found on their FaceBook page, Paul Wilson (Director): (613) 862-1997, email: [email protected]

About the writer

MacAndrew Clarke
MacAndrew Clarke

MacAndrew Clarke holds a B.A. (Hons) in Political Science from Carleton University. Fluently bilingual in English and French, he has  several years diverse communications and marketing experience from within the public, private, and non-profit sectors. MacAndrew Clarke has been a member of The Academy since December of 2015. He can be reached at:  [email protected].