Testifying in Song
By Catherine Elvy, Staff Writer
Stanford Testimony Christian A Cappella kicked off the new academic year by welcoming members of the class of 2023 during a spirited performance on the opening evening of classes.
On September 23, Testimony joined with nine other student a cappella groups to stage the annual O-Show, Stanford University’s biggest a cappella event of the year. Each of the groups performed two songs during the 9 p.m. show at Memorial Auditorium.
Stanford’s largest indoor performance facility was nearly filled to its 1,705-seat capacity for the annual gathering. The a cappella organizations banded together to greet students, especially frosh, and to invite undergraduates to audition for the coveted slots in the celebrated choirs. Per tradition, alumni of the musical groups returned for the back-to-school event. The O-Show is “one of the best ways we reach out to the campus broadly,” said Nate Marshall, president of Testimony. “We bring together the larger community. It’s a big a cappella scene.”
Likewise, Stanford’s only Christian a cappella group is looking forward to a banner year, especially with the return of five student leaders. “We’re looking forward to a year of growth, both musically and spiritually,” said Marshall, Stanford ’20. Among the highlights for the new school year, Testimony plans to stage one of its annual shows in November and its regular tour in December. During its annual holiday tour, Testimony lines up a combination of churches, nursing homes, hospitals, soup kitchens, shopping malls, and municipal facilities for daily performances of Christmas music. This year, Testimony is eyeing options to take its show on the road in the South.
Closer to campus, Testimony often performs in area churches. In addition, it joins with Stanford’s other a cappella groups for an annual concert to coincide with Advent, and hosts its spring concert in May on campus. “We want Testimony always to be a place where non-Christians feel welcome. We want any member of campus to feel welcome and feel interested in coming to our shows,” said Marshall. “We invite people very broadly.”
Participants in Testimony try to offer a sense of hope via uplifting music of a variety of Christian genres. “Every song we sing is sharing the Gospel message,” said Marshall, an environmental systems engineering major. In addition to harmonizing well, many members also cement lifelong friendships. During typical weeks, Testimony singers rehearse about six hours, and some participate together in social and ministry-based activities. “We’re also investing in each other’s lives,” he said.
Alumni remain heavily involved with most of Stanford’s a cappella groups and some help arrange new musical selections. For Testimony, graduates even participate in the so-called alumni crash at the end of the fall retreat, and frequent the group’s lively performances. Current and alumni vocalists enjoy making melodies together and then downing bubble tea.
“Alumni are involved in so many ways,” said Marshall. “Alumni of the group stay involved, often for life. This is a community that is really important to people. People are invested. People have gotten so much, they want to give back.”
In December 2016, Testimony celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary, and current members are thinking ahead for options to mark the thirtieth anniversary.
In March 2018, Testimony released an EP entitled The Mess I’ve Made. In recent years, the size of the group has varied from eleven to seventeen members. “We want to get a group that can blend well,” said Marshall of Idaho. This academic year, members of Testimony plan to record songs for the group’s next full-length album. “That’s something we are really excited about,” said Marshall, a tenor. Not surprisingly, Testimony singers echoed Marshall’s enthusiasm for the group and its upcoming year. Nathan Marks called his spur-of-the moment decision as a frosh to audition for Testimony as one of his best decisions. “I’ve met some great people and made some great friends,” said Marks, who did not have an extensive musical background before arriving at Stanford.
At a personal level, the computer science major also noted that participation in a vocal group brings a welcome change from the intensity of his core academic curriculum. “This school is very STEM-oriented,” said Marks, Stanford ’22, a bass.
More importantly, the Minnesota native relishes opportunities to “worship God with my voice and spread His love on campus.” Testimony songsters take time to pray for one another during practices.
At their core, Testimony’s singers are simply trying to stay in tune with God’s plans for this pivotal chapter of their lives. Marshall said he relishes his front-row seat to watch his collegiate peers grow in their spiritual brotherhood. “I’m so excited because I have the honor of working with this group,” he said. “It’s worthwhile to see the growth in the relationships.”