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McCaskey Gospel Choir Sings in Praise

By Jordan Tracy/ Photos by Eric Sprunger

The music department at J.P. McCaskey High School has been a shining star in the Lancaster community for many generations. As students come and go one thing always remains: the hard work and commitment seen in the music department. From instrumental groups to the choral groups, excellence resonates through them all, and one great example is the McCaskey Gospel Choir led by director Colette Stephens and assistant Keith Lewis.

Stephens, a 17 year veteran of the School District of Lancaster, directs a talented group of students who bring versatility, entertainment, and praise to local audiences. She began her teaching career at Price Elementary teaching general, instrumental, and choral music as well as directing the school musical before taking the leap into the high school. Mrs. Stephens explained, "The orchestra director at McCaskey before me, Shawn Wampler, became ill and unfortunately we lost a dear friend and colleague to cancer. It was then that Timothy Sterner pursued me and asked if I would be interested in teaching at McCaskey. I really had no intention of teaching at the high school level but I felt the nudge to take the step."

With that step, Mrs. Stephens brought the vision of "establishing a choir that was versatile.....stretched musically and capable of performing more than one style of choral music." Today, the vision has come into fruition. The choir has been named the Grand Champions of the Orlando, FL Disney Music Festival during the spring of 2004. They were also awarded St. John's Episcopal Church's Martin Luther King Jr. "Prolonging the Dream" award in 2010. Along with those honors; in 2011 the choir was the first gospel choir ever to perform at the PMEA (Pennsylvania Music Educators Association) conference.

Mrs. Stephens cherishes those honors while still carrying an even bigger vision for the choir. Her goal is to produce and record an album for the choir containing all original music. With that, the choir could reach out to a wider audience and touch the hearts of more people. In selecting music, Mrs. Stephens says they "always take time to ask the students about the songs and what feelings or thoughts the song was meant to evoke; what is at the heart of the lyrics. We want to balance our program with music that would move our audience by bringing them varied tempos, make them want to get out of their seats or to be moved emotionally by a more lyrical selection."

Along with challenging the students musically, the gospel choir staff wants this to be a complete life experience for the students. Stephens explains, "The greatest achievement so far has been witnessing the lasting impact the choir has had on the students. It is an extended family that the students value and hold dear. This is something of which I am very proud."