Whether it’s proving that a skinny kid can became the leading punt returner in the Pac-10, winning weightlifting competitions, or shaping his gospel choir into a global powerhouse, University of Oregon choir instructor Andiel Brown, BS ’08, loves a challenge. Under his direction, the UO Gospel Singers have won two national choir competitions, and in 2013 they made world history by becoming the first gospel act ever to perform publicly in the People’s Republic of China.
To further solidify the Gospel Singers as a group that pushes boundaries, Brown plans to take the choir to Cuba at the end of this year. “When President Obama lifted the embargo from Cuba, that was my thinking,” he says. “We’re going to go there and be political ambassadors through music.”
A dynamic director, Brown, with his signature long dreadlocks swaying to the gospel rhythm, emphasizes expression physically as well as vocally. And although the choir sings mostly traditional songs, Brown produces a contemporary sound by blending musical genres such as rap and pop, and incorporating a variety of instruments, including assorted drums—steel, congas, and bongos—as well as Swiss hanging drums, a glockenspiel, and old-world instruments such as the guzheng, a traditional Chinese instrument similar to a harp.
Relying heavily on dominant vocals, gospel music is not for the timid. According to Brown, his beginning classes are about 90 percent international students—many from China, a culture where quietness is considered a virtue. “I love seeing the development from shy and timid to bold and courageous and confident over the course of 10 weeks.”
Exploring the Stage
Brown is active in local community theater, showcasing his versatility in roles ranging from Seaweed J. Stubbs in Hairspray to Mordecai in The Book of Esther: A Rock Gospel Ballet. His very first acting gig came along during his sophomore year in high school, when he was selected for a PBS documentary on Lewis and Clark to play the role of York, the explorers' guide on the Oregon Trail.
A Natural Lift
A former walk-on star for the Ducks football team, Brown recently took home his first trophy in the National Physique Committee bodybuilding organization’s 2016 Battle for the Eagle Championship. He supports natural bodybuilding, which eschews supplements or steroid use.
As a child growing up in Los Angeles, Brown witnessed gang involvement in his own family. Today he is a motivational speaker at local high schools and mentors a number of young men. His long-term goal is to start a national nonprofit organization for underrepresented youth. “Kids want to know that someone cares,” he says, “and the way you show someone you care is by giving your time.”
Symphony in the Key of B
A long-held goal of his has been to write a symphony, but Brown also wants to infuse it with his love of storytelling and dance. After his gospel choir collaborated with a local ballet company in The Book of Esther, he began creating the setting, scenes, and music for a ballet of his own.
—By Sharleen Nelson, University Communications