Shortly after 9/11, Dawn Boyer joined a local gospel choir as a soloist. “My world, and the world of many others had become pretty bleak,” she says. “And here was this incredibly strong force at work, gospel music, that said the strength of the spirit can rise above anything. It made me feel connected, both spiritually and to others, in a way I’d never been before.”
She sang with the choir for two years. Yet something inside kept calling to her: she needed to do more with the music than perform at brunches and concerts. Many people couldn’t attend performances and needed someone to come to them. Audiences at most concerts simply listened to the songs and didn’t have the opportunity to learn about gospel music’s rich history, including its power to effect positive change in our society and culture. She wondered if forming a nonprofit with the mission of bringing the music, the understanding, and the whole experience of gospel music to others would be the way to go.
Boyer began to research the stories behind the songs and the people who created them. She thought: “If people learn about these stories, it would help them to enjoy the music more. It would help them to see how we can use life’s troubles to make us stronger. It could change lives.” In February 2004, she and four others who felt the same way formed a board. They talked with an attorney who helped them draft their Articles of Incorporation. And not long after that, a dream became a reality. Out of Boyer’s personal process, and with the help of several other key individuals, grew ProjectMusicWorks. It is now an organization based upon the commitment and effort of many.
ProjectMusicWorks is a nonprofit umbrella organization that sponsors a full choir named Rock My Soul, various small singing groups, and education workshops on roots and gospel music. Money is raised by putting on concerts. In turn, these funds help support the choir and small groups to perform at hospices, hospitals, nursing homes, jails, and other areas where the uplifting message and meaning of gospel music is needed, but not affordable. Funds raised cover the costs of putting on a concert, many of which are the same no matter the size of the audience or the audience’s pocketbooks. These include the costs of music, transportation, soloists, choir director, and musicians. Choir members are volunteers who contribute dues to support the organization. Rock My Soul is an interfaith musical group on a mission of hope and joy.
Education is a key part of the mission. “During every performance, we talk with the audience about the history of gospel music as well as share the stories behind the songs,” Boyer notes. In addition, the organization expects its members to learn and become knowledgeable about the music in order to help them sing and perform it better. “We have mini-workshops during rehearsals, and members help put together the public workshops we present,” Boyer adds. “Recently, one member shared a workshop story with me. He was teaching a group of children about gospel music, and when he explained that enslaved African Americans used the biblical stories of Moses and the Israelites in their songs as a metaphor for their own captivity and hope for freedom, one child asked a profound question. She wanted to know why, if slavery was written about in the Bible as something that was wrong, it happened again in our culture. That gave him pause. It took another child to answer: ‘Because we forgot.’ Most of us don’t realize how important the history is and how inspiring the enslaved people who created this music were. We make it our mission to tell their story so it’s never forgotten again.”