Devon Steve bounces in front of his students.
With his hands leading them, a big smile assuredly on his face (albeit hidden by a COVID mask), he’s a ball of energy as he leads the Des Moines teens.
Students at Roosevelt High School send back that energy, their bodies swaying, their hands moving expressively, their connection pouring into their gazes.
At one point, Steve interrupts them with a scream.
“Ahh! It was so good,” Steve said.
This inspiring scene was a class and rehearsal of Bridges 2 Harmony Gospel Choir in early December. Bridges was established in 2008 to “provide Roosevelt students with a high-quality musical experience in the gospel genre,” its website states.
But it gives more than that.
The choir has collaborated with people around the world and has been an inspiration at events ranging from Governor Kim Reynolds’ inauguration in 2019 to high school sports games. He’s shared his knowledge in hundreds of performances, up to 30 a year, with people across the state and beyond the borders of Iowa. It has become one of the “last great gospel choirs in the state,” said Steve, and one of the very few high school gospel choirs in Iowa.
He taught a disparate group of teenagers about uniquely American music while broadening their knowledge of the black experience in that country.
But the choir, which has up to 150 students auditioning for two dozen open spots in a typical year, continues to give.
“I’ve been looking at Bridges for about the fourth year,” said Kiana Collier, 17. Her sister was in the choir before her, and Collier is now in her second year as President-elect of Bridges. “I came to every gig, I was in Junior Bridges every year that I could, and I just fell in love with the choir, to be honest.”
Seeing the choir gave the church-raised girl and music lover “inspiration, hope and motivation.”
Junior Theo Linebaugh, one of this year’s 38 members, has also watched the choir since college.
Now that he’s a member, “more than anything it’s like family here, singing with everyone. We have all these moments. It’s really hard to describe,” said Linebaugh, 17. “I love this choir, I do. I’m honored to be a part of it.
Steve, who became the choir’s artistic director five years ago, uses breaks in the music to ask students to talk with the person next to them about their favorite food or what they’re looking forward to. do for the weekend. He participates in these discussions.
“I am with them in building this family,” he said.
These connections are reflected in their voices.
“It’s different when you want to support that person next to you, when you have that desire to sing for and with them,” Steve said.
That day the connection was clear as Des Moines Register photographer Kelsey Kremer and I listened to the choir click through a complicated warm-up lap of “Do-Re-Me” or the sweet “Sing Noel. “which blew Steve up with appreciation. It wasn’t a bunch of cynical, out of touch teens. It was a cohesive unit of talented singers who bring joy to the world through their voices.
“What sets us apart is just this courage, this willingness to really find that connection and let it flow into the voices. And really let go with the voice. When you feel that, when you believe that, when you know those words, that passion comes – and because of that they are able to have a purpose, “said Steve.
Some upcoming events of the choir:
- Annual Winter Concert, January 27, 7 to 9 p.m., Roosevelt High School, 4419 Center Street, Des Moines.
- Worship service, February 20, 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., Lutheran Church of Hope + Elim, 2500 University Ave., Des Moines.
- Traditions Concert, April 30, 7 to 9 p.m., Roosevelt High School, 4419 Center Street, Des Moines.
Rachel Stassen-Berger, news director of The Register, is Jewish but, with a Baptist mother and a New York education, she has always found inspiration in gospel music. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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