AURORA | As soon as the minister signaled the start of a 10-minute-long break, most of the children settled inside the Wells College auditorium bolted.
Speeding into a window-filled hallway, the dozens of students participating in the school's 12th annual Gospel Weekend crowded around a table laden with refreshments, all jockeying to refuel by nibbling on donuts and sipping juice.
Aminah Evans, however, stayed.
Standing beside a grand piano, the 15-year-old girl listened intently as the Rev. Edward Menifee demonstrated how she should sing a verse. Looking down shyly at her packet of lyrics, Evans smiled before quietly singing "When I get to heaven, gonna wear my crown."
Her vibrato-filled voice gained volume as her confidence grew.
Menifee, the group's instructor, applauded Evans at the end of her song.
"That's good," he said. "You catch on real quickly."
Heading back to her seat with a grin, the Union Springs student said she decided to participate in the yearly weekend — filled with workshops and a concert — for multiple reasons.
"I came last year, and my school was coming, and I enjoyed it," Evans summarized.
Although Evans enjoyed the instruction and group atmosphere, she said she still feels more comfortable stretching her vocal chords in solitude.
"I don't have to be told how to sing," she said. "I like signing with me as my own director."
As the short break drew to a close, the students filed back into the auditorium. Picking up their song-book packets, the teens looked over the spiritual songs' lyrics and talked about the evening's fast-approaching concert.
Menifee, who flew in from Georgia to teach and lead the young choir, didn't have to ask the students to quiet down. As soon as he started playing an uplifting piano accompaniment, his students knew what to do.
Starting out quietly and swelling into vibrant sound, the singers filled the Aurora college's music hall with a powerful rendition of the hymn "We've Come This Far By Faith/I Will."
Halfway through the song, Menifee walked away from the piano bench, listening to how the song sounded without instrumentals. Pausing the group, he advised the singers not to be shy.
"You see, I got to hear. Give me the strength in the rehearsal," Menifee asked. "If you mess up, I'd rather have you mess up loud here so I can correct it."
Heading back to the piano, Menifee asked the students to try again. And this time — belting out a heartfelt version of the gospel tune — they delivered.