We Believe We Can Fly: Local Pastor Begins Gospel Choir at School in Hartford
What happens when you are a local pastor who loves music and loves youth? You start a Gospel Choir at a local school. Or at least that’s what Apostle T. Allen Stringer, Senior Pastor of Bible Way Temple Nation, did at Simpson-Waverly School in Hartford. The public school had been without a choir for at least six years before Stringer stepped up to the challenge. Sylvia Fagan, a member of and administrator for Bible Way Temple Nation and a teacher at Simpson-Waverly School, let Stringer know the school’s principal was interested in having a choir started.
The choir is made up of 20 students from grades 6-8th. In order to participate in the choir, students have to be doing well academically and behaviorally. The choir is a privilege and has to be kept intentionally small so as to create a cohesive environment for fun and learning. Students who participate sacrifice part of their lunch period on Thursdays and Fridays in order to be a part of the Simpson-Waverly Gospel Choir (SWGC).
Stringer knows personally the value singing can bring to a young person’s life. When he was twelve his family moved from Meriden, CT to Hartford. They moved so his father could pastor a church in Hartford. But for Stringer, moving to Hartford was a culture shock. The thing that helped him through it though was his school’s choir at Rawson School. For him singing had a calming effect and allowed him to escape, even if just momentarily, from the intimidation of gang-members and bullies that seemed to surround him. Stringer calls music his first love, and he has been involved with music from singing in and leading choirs, to being in two bands (“Inner Phase One“ under the management of jazz organist, the late Jasper Jenkins, and “Confunktion” a rhythm and blues group out of West Hartford), to writing, producing, and engineering songs. He loves to do it all.
With the youth at Simpson-Waverly, he has been teaching them to harmonize. He plays games with them to teach them not to steal each other’s notes. They have also been singing what Stringer calls, “Message Music;” the students are not just learning to sing, but the lyrics to the songs have something to speak into their lives. He even changed R. Kelly’s “I Believe I can Fly,” to “We Believe We Can Fly,” to emphasize the choir’s unity and need for each other. For Stringer, the most exciting thing was when the choir first harmonized to The Five Stairsteps, “O-o-h Child.” The choir is not only teaching them life-lessons through the lyrics and teamwork through harmonization, but it is also allowing them the opportunity to temporarily escape difficult situations and to express themselves.
Stringer knows that leading the choir is only part of what he can do to help a local school. He hopes to begin expanding his and his church’s involvement with public schools by helping to raise money for them to off-set many of the budget cuts the schools have undergone over the past few years. This need really came to light when Stringer went into Simpson-Waverly and discovered four pianos in disrepair. Normally it only costs $100-$150 to tune a piano, but for the two pianos Stringer had tuned it was about $700 a piece. Stringer knows this is just one case that demonstrates a larger story of needs in the schools. In his 26 years of pastoring in Hartford, Stringer has never given up dreaming of what this city could be. He is constantly pushing his church, Bible Way Temple Nation, to be really socially connected and invest in the city.
The Simpson-Waverly Gospel Choir will be performing on March 31, 2012 at 4pm at Bible Way Temple Nation (3053 Main Street, Hartford, CT 06120) as part of the church’s R2R (Ready 2 Record) event, click here to learn more.