Blending Voices, Developing Community and Building Confidence
Kean University communication adjunct Malcolm Evans developed his love for gospel music as a child attending his church’s choir practices and learning to find his voice.
Today, he takes those lessons with him to Kean, where he empowers students to develop their own voice and learn how to leverage its potential, whether navigating team dynamics in the classroom or singing gospel music.
“It’s about blending voices,” he said. “As we become more comfortable with people and their voice, that blending becomes easier.”
Evans, 32, completed his bachelor’s in communication studies in 2015, and a master’s in communication studies in 2017. Less than a year later, he is teaching Speech as Critical Citizenship and Group Communication courses at Kean, and applying to doctoral programs.
Both in the classroom and at choir practice, Evans begins by “checking in” with his students as a means of initiating discussion and staying accessible.
“I want to be a guide through their educational or musical journey, not the sage who knows all,” Evans said. “That way, when I give feedback, they feel like it’s coming from someone who is genuinely concerned about their progress.”
Building trust is crucial for developing confidence, both in the choir and in public speaking classes, Evans said.
“You have to empower them to attempt it first, and then as they practice they can get better,” he said.
Deonté Griffin-Quick, a senior at Kean and vice president of the choir, said Evans creates an environment where mistakes are recognized as part of the learning process, rather than as failure. The theater major, who is completing his fourth year in the choir, says it is Evans’ knowledge and experience, as well as his attention to detail, that has made such a lasting impact on how he approaches the music.
“Every note, every word, every phrase matters,” he said. “Nothing is meaningless because it all ties together for the bigger picture.”
Evans, who grew up in the Union area, started at Kean in 2003, but suspended his studies to work full time two years later. When he returned to campus in 2013, one of the first things he did was join the school’s gospel choir, which was regrouping after a seven-year hiatus.
He was soon named as one of the choir’s two directors, taking over as the sole director in 2014 as he worked to rebuild the group and its legacy at Kean.
Gospel music has always played an important role for Evans, representing a powerful cultural link for many in the African-American community and can provide an important familiar link for students away from home for the first time.
“At my family reunions, the first thing we do is set up a keyboard and microphone, so we can sing gospel,” he said.
Under Evans’ leadership, the choir has taken on new challenges; providing backup for a campus performance of Sons of Serendip, a classical/neo-soul/R&B fusion quartet that made it to the final round of season nine of NBC’s America’s Got Talent.
The choir also appeared on both live and taped local television segments, including Fox 5 New York, WNYW’s Good Day Street Talk, and Good Day New York programs, as well as at religious community events throughout New Jersey and Rhode Island.
Those efforts have paid off. The choir, numbering 25-30 members depending on the semester, earned national recognition, winning the adult choir category for the McDonald’s Gospel Fest in 2016 and 2017.
This spring, the choir will reach another goal. Releasing its first single on iTunes, a project which, Evans says, speaks to how far the choir has come, and empowers them to do more.
“We’re laying the foundation, so it can continue to gain recognition and always be part of Kean and the community,” he said.