Every Sunday morning, a group of Maryland National Guard Freestate ChalleNGe Academy cadets “make a joyful noise” as the Freestate Gospel Choir.
The Freestate ChalleNGe Academy, or FCA, operated by the Maryland National Guard and located at Aberdeen Proving Ground, gives Maryland teens who have withdrawn from high school a second chance at an education. Teens enrolled in the voluntary residential program receive academic and life skills training in a strict, military-style setting for 22 weeks.
Since 2011, the APG Gospel service has hosted a voluntary weekly worship service for the cadets. This year, the Freestate Gospel Choir was formed, with the help of several chapel volunteers and the support of Garrison Chaplain Lt. Col. Michael King.
The choir sings during the worship service held at the academy, and performs at community events like the Easter sunrise service, and most recently, during the APG Holiday Tree Lighting event that was held Nov. 30.
The Freestate Gospel Choir is directed by Cliff Anderson, an Army veteran, and Lisa Henson, a local resident who has attended the APG Gospel service for 13 years. Henson described singing as “an outlet” and said the cadet choir members sing tenor and alto.
“They know once they step into practice they can sing and forget their problems,” she said. “Most importantly it gives them a chance to openly worship God with no judgment or insecurity.”
Henson said she encourages the cadets to express themselves freely during rehearsals. The majority of their repertoire consists of inspirational songs like “Every Praise” by Hezekiah Walker, and “My Name is Victory,” by Jonathan Nelson. Recently, they have been learning a praise dance routine to “Work It Out,” by Tye Tribbett, she said.
“Singing allows you to express whatever emotions are overwhelming you,” Henson said. “When you sing with passion, people feel it, they understand you, and it sets the atmosphere regardless of [whether] you can carry a tune or not. “It’s a stress relief that makes you feel free.”
Anderson said singing is a “vocal expression.”
“Sometimes we want to say something and don’t know how, but a song can relay that message,” he said. “Singing [a song] is a four-minute escape into another world.”
A break from training
According to FCA counselor Keith Dickerson, cadets are allowed to participate in extracurricular activities, like the choir, based on merit. These activities can help enhance a cadet’s experience, and gives them a break from their rigorous academic training, he said. Cadets who earn enough merit-based points can shop at the academy’s store, compete on sports teams and take driver’s education classes with Harford Community College.
Several cadets remarked that they enjoy participating in the choir because of the camaraderie
Zavara Bromery, 17, from Prince George’s County, thanked Henson and Anderson for their willingness to serve as directors.
“The choir helps me get over shyness,” she said. “I used to sing in the choir at church. It’s just another thing to do at Freestate, and it’s fun for me.”
Nishawn Head, 16, from Edgewood, said participating in the choir gave him the confidence to sing in public.
“I think I am going to sing more,” he said.
Alexis Lee, 16, from Baltimore City, said her involvement with the choir helped her overcome stage fright.
“I was scared to sing in public before,” she said. “And it helped me make friends too.”
The choir’s next performance will be during the Completion Ceremony for Class #49 set for Dec. 9. For more information about FCA, visit http://freestatemil.maryland. gov/.