Finding a job in college is common. Finding a job that provides an income but also experience in your chosen field? That’s lucky. Finding a job that does both of those things and provides another community to lean on in Chapel Hill? That’s priceless.
Three UNC Voice students, Imani Oluoch (‘23), Jada Poteat (‘22), and Kyle Rodriguez (‘23), found their priceless experiences as choral scholars at Binkley Baptist Church this year. Choral scholars are singers who receive scholarship money to be section leaders in the church choir, gaining performance experience in sacred music, while the church’s music program is bolstered by their musical talents. As is often the case, the Binkley choral scholars aren’t all religious, but they all described the incredible sense of community and acceptance they’ve found in their work as choral scholars.
“The people in the choir are so sweet and so supportive,” said Poteat. “As soon as I came in, they were like, ‘Let’s be friends!’”
Choral scholar positions are becoming more and more popular among churches in college towns, as they provide a symbiotic relationship between students at the university and the church. Binkley Baptist began its choral scholars program in 2016, under the leadership of the music minister at the time, Daniel Cherrix.
Kyle Ballantine, who served as Binkley Baptist’s music minister until March 2022, noted that it was a generous gift by the Lentz family that enabled Binkley to establish the program and its endowment fund. The fund has been supported by fundraising events ever since to keep it going strong. The program is also now partially funded through the church’s operating budget, supporting anywhere from one to four choral scholars at a time. Ballantine remarked how the program “has certainly become a cherished, integral part of our music program and wider church community.”
Congregation members have felt the positive impact of the choral scholars program as well. “Since the first year Binkley implemented this program, it has been a wonderful addition to the choir program,” wrote member Gary Stutts. “It adds a tad of professionalism to the mix in that the scholars are studying music and/or voice and bring new energy to the effort. I am so glad that Binkley has this program in place.”
Oluoch has also found a lot of enjoyment in attending an inclusive church like Binkley. Oluoch attended many different denominations of churches growing up, as well as mosques, and said she has enjoyed learning about how Binkley’s congregation worships. “It was nice to come into something different because I’m used to hymns, but I’m used to Catholic or Lutheran hymns which are structured [differently].”
The choral scholars noted how being in the program has helped them conquer their stage fright and serves as a reminder that it’s not always about being the most technically perfect in performance, but is about conveying the meaning of the music. As Rodriguez put it, “[at Binkley] there’s a different emphasis – less on perfection and more on the message of the music.”
Finding a job that provides income, experience in your chosen field, and a community outside of the university setting can feel like searching for a needle in a haystack. But for UNC voice students like Oluoch, Poteat, and Rodriguez, choral scholars’ positions like theirs at Binkley Baptist Church are just the needle for which they’ve been searching.
By Catherine Zachary, ’10
View some of the Binkley Choral Scholars’ performances—
A Christmas Concert Benefiting the Binkley Choral Scholar Program
Binkley Choral Scholars sing “Good Christians All Rejoice”
Binkley Choral Scholars sing “Draw Us in the Spirit’s Tether”