Gospel choir leader praises God for answered prayer
April 7, 2009
By Darla Martin Tucker
RIVERSIDE, Calif. – ( www.lasierra.edu )Gospel choir director and La Sierra University alumnus Alan Woodson stood in front of the three-member panel of judges in the Los Angeles Coliseum and Sports Arena last October. He anxiously awaited their final decision.
His 42-member group, the Mt. Rubidoux Seventh-day Adventist Church Choir, had just finished their rousing performance of “The Presence of the Lord is Here.” Their song served up a toe-tapping combination that started o ff with an acappella classical sound that segued into a hard-hitting gospel rendition with a five-piece band. The opening chord brought the audience of several thousand people to immediately to their feet. Their show so inspired the choir’s listeners that a competition judge ran up on stage and sang the ending portion of the song with the group.
The choir, comprised of La Sierra and Loma Linda University alumni and students, was competing in the regional leg of the Verizon Wireless “How Sweet the Sound” gospel choir competition. They hoped for a win that would carry them to the national event in Atlanta. But mostly they awaited God’s will in the matter. During a bus trip to the competition they had prayed God would help them sing their very best. They left the outcome in His hands.
God answered their prayers in ways they could not have anticipated and led them to a national competition where they had the opportunity to witness about their Seventh-day Adventist beliefs.
Before the Los Angeles competition an online video performance contest culled the Mt. Rubidoux choir and seven other choirs from a field of about 60 groups. Now in the sports arena, they awaited the verdict of the judges’ panel, comprised of gospel music greats Hezekiah Walker, Marvin Sapp and KJLH 102.3 gospel radio personality Aundrae Russell.
“You have my vote,” Walker said to Woodson. What happened next, Woodson did not expect. Sapp, apparently still pumped from the choir’s song, “started praising God, and praising God and praising God. You could just feel the Holy Spirit rip through the sports arena. This went on for 25 minutes,” while the next competing choir, now onstage, watched, Woodson said. “The competition turned into a worship service. Our prayers, even before we won, were answered.”
It would not be the last time the choir experienced God’s power. They won three regional prizes in Los Angeles that day -- Best Large Choir, V-Cast People’s Choice Award and Best Overall Choir. Their winnings included a $10,000 check from Verizon for L.A. Best Large Choir and a $5,000 check from the company for the People’s Choice Award. Verizon also gave each choir member a touch-screen cell phone, $50 gift certificate and an all-expense paid trip to the national event in Atlanta held in November at Philips Arena.
As they prepared for nationwide competition, the choir members realized they were the only Adventist church choir to make it to that level. “We prayed we would represent the Seventh-day Adventist Church well,” Woodson said.
In Atlanta, the choir performed the same song as they had in Los Angeles, but rules concerning musical arrangements during competition prevented the group from singing it the same way. Prior to competition, they were asked to leave out an ending arrangement called “My Time to be Blessed” and were told to come up with something else, Woodson said.
The group’s musicians got to work on another arrangement and the choir prayed God would bless them with creativity. The blessing came to Bishop Brad, the choir’s musical director and keyboardist. “God just gave him this piece to write inside the song,” Woodson said.
The choir faced the challenge of re-learning the piece in time for their national debut. “I told them, pray God’s will be done,” Woodson said. While they did not win the top prize, their performance against 10 other church choirs from around the country netted enthusiastic comments from the judging panel, which included Sapp. One judge quipped he wanted to move to Riverside and asked what time Sunday services began at the Mt. Rubidoux church. The question allowed the group to witness about its Seventh-day Adventist beliefs.
“We will always be known as the only Seventh-day Adventist Church [choir] that made it that far,” Woodson said.
The choir’s showing in the Verizon Wireless competition brought the group additional, high profile performance opportunities. Last New Year’s Eve the group sang as special guests at the Los Angeles Forum alongside gospel greats Kirk Franklin and Kurt Carr. They also performed for an Oscar gala hosted by Children Uniting Nations. Their schedule includes a May 16 performance in the ’09 KJLH Gospel Showcase at Knott’s Berry Farm.
Lover of gospel music
“It’s the passion that comes with gospel music, the energy, the spontaneity,” Woodson explained when asked why he loves gospel music. “It’s very celebratory and that’s what gets me. The music comes with such profound lyrics and a message and I thrive off of that.”
His gospel music interests, honed during family worships and church while growing up in Compton and Cerritos, led Woodson in 1986 to join the La Sierra University gospel choir, Another Peace as assistant director. That year the group won the McDonald’s Gospel Fest at the Shrine Auditorium. The following year they performed for the wedding of film stars Bruce Willis and Demi Moore and for an ABC sports special with pop artist Chaka Khan. Woodson became the group’s director in 1989, a position he held until 2005.
Woodson is also a 1987 graduate of Loma Linda University’s dental school and operates a dental practice in Upland, Calif. during the week. As the Mt. Rubidoux minister of creative music and arts he directs the adult choir and leads a worship team once a month. The department he oversees includes a children’s choir, youth choir, chorale, six praise teams, a drama department, praise dance group, signing ministry and step team. He also organizes annual “Soulful Messiah” concerts featuring renowned gospel artists. He has served as the church’s minister of creative music and arts more than six years. Woodson does it all for free.
“I do it because I love it. I enjoy it. That’s my ministry,” Woodson said during an interview in his church office. On its walls hang eloquent black and white photos of musical instruments and posters of past Mt. Rubidoux concerts featuring Tramaine Hawkins, Byron Cage and other artists.
Woodson plans to use the choir’s winnings from the Verizon Wireless competition to help purchase a slide projector, new microphones, additional monitors for the choir and other equipment.
He began attending Mt. Rubidoux in 1993 when his brother, Mark Woodson became the church’s senior pastor. “I sat on the pew for five years,” he said. But God had a different plan. The music department asked Woodson to organize a gospel band and choir and he began assembling the musicians. The keyboardist suggested Woodson direct the group.
“When I decided to help out everything just worked out,” he said. “Everything just came together. I knew it was God’s plan I should be doing this.”
PR Contact: Larry Becker
Executive Director of University Relations
La Sierra University