The Nottingham High School Gospel Choir is a microcosm of Hamilton Township.
Directed by Kelly Dunn Hall since 2000, the choir exemplifies the school’s and the town’s diversity.
Fellow music teacher Meg Hanson had the original idea to start a more diverse choir at Nottingham in 1998.
“It was her idea to appeal to the needs of Nottingham’s diverse community,” Hall said. “Meg wanted to have a choir which would include and celebrate African American music and composers. She must be given the credit for getting the ball rolling to what the choir has become today.”
Hanson led the choir for a year and then moved to teach at the elementary school level. Hall started at Nottingham in 2000, and has seen the school’s Gospel Choir explode into what Hall says is the largest choir in Hamilton.
The choir performs several times a year, and has performed at school board meetings, winter and spring concerts, Teen Arts programs, Black History Month programs and even some benefit concerts.
Gospel Choir at Nottingham is really part of the Select Choirs in the school district. All three high schools have two Select groups each, which suit the needs of their school. Students must audition to become part of the group.
For the Gospel Choir, Hall is the only person who listens to the auditions, which can take anywhere from 2-5 minutes each. Hall said she is listening for tone quality and confidence, but she is also looking at a student’s energy and performance ability.
Hall chooses all the music for Nottingham’s Gospel Choir. The group performs all Black Gospel music songs, from artists such as Kirk Franklin, Donnie McClurkin, John P. Kee, Hezekiah Walker, and Fred Hammond. Hall herself has also written songs that the choir has performed.
Hall grew up in Hamilton, and attended Notre Dame High School in Lawrence before moving to Steinert High School for her senior year.
She graduated from Westminster Choir College in 1996, and said she always wanted to be a music teacher. Hall would spend hours playing and singing alone in my music room, but was too nervous to perform in person. Never having sung Gospel music before, Hall was convinced by a friend to give it a try one day in a Pentecostal church.
“After the first few lines of the song, the church broke into a praise shout that went on for a long time,” Hall said. “It was in that moment that I felt I had been given an amazing gift and would make sure I always used it.”
Hall tries to pass that enthusiasm on to her students. She said a particular point of pride is that the choir started small but has grown into a large and diverse group.
“I am very proud of my students and what they accomplish,” Hall said. “Every member is important. Gospel music has a lot of solos, and I have been very fortunate to have so many students who can step out front and lead the group. To be a successful group, we need good soloists and good choir members.”
The pandemic has forced the choir to the sidelines for now, but Hall can’t wait to get back to work with her students.
“I am very blessed and happy to have a Gospel choir,” Hall said. “Safety is our number one concern at this time, but I can’t wait to be back together again. I have a lot of dreams for this group.”