Living Water — Yale’s only Christian a cappella group — held its spring jam in Sudler Recital Hall on Saturday evening.
Dressed in bright blue and yellow, the Living Water singers performed 13 songs, including a solo by each member. The group kicked off the show with “Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone),” soloed by Emma Ruohoniemi ’21 and Sophia Dai ’20, followed by a surprise presentation from Jay Zhang ’21 and Ruohoniemi that introduced the group members and various shenanigans during the California tour, filled with hilariously embarrassing photographs and jokes, to the delight of the audience.
“Singing in a group has really helped to shape my faith and helped me grow as a person, and doing that in a community is so cool, because these people are amazing and unafraid to ask real questions,” Tiffany Fomby ’19 said. “Singing is a way of reminding myself of who God is and how He loves me so much. He does see me and knows me and wants to have a personal relationship with me.”
During the presentation, Zhang recalled many anecdotes. For one, he joked the group was “rolling around in money” from charging for its concerts, even though all concerts are free of charge. Zhang also joked that spiritual leader Eric Chen ’19 holds “puddle sessions” in which members “pretend we like each other for an hour and talk about the Bible.” He also highlighted the group’s dancing to Amazing Grace and the eight-minute ab workouts it did during a recent California tour, and he joked about singing as a disguise for the group’s actual purpose — taking profile pictures, while using Zhang as a coat rack.
Zhang later revealed that he had organized the presentation the night before and the afternoon of the day of the concert, delivering it on the spot. Fomby and Keniel Yao ’19, the group’s co-pitches, confirmed that members did not know what was going to be on the presentation. Still, audience members thought it was cute, funny and relatable, and helped the crowd better understand the singers as people.
Living Water’s setlist ranged from solemn songs like “Via Dolorosa,” which talks of the pain that Christ went through for his all-encompassing love for humanity, sung by duo Yao and Sharon Kwinjo ’20 — to brighter songs like “Change in My Life,” soloed by Kwinjo. The setlist also included contemporary songs like U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” soloed by Lauren Ribordy ’19.
Each member delivered a short introduction before the performance, which often included interpretations of the lyrics and personal experiences, ranging from humorous to emotional. Ruohoniemi, in introducing her solo “Restless,” said that while her first year has been difficult for her mental health, God’s grace and kindness allowed her to stand before the audience.
Ariel Hsieh ’21, who soloed “If You Want Me To,” spoke of changing her major several times and not knowing what she wants to do with her academic career, but said she has accepted that the future is uncertain and that she has surrendered everything to God.
According to Yao, the setlist starts with conflict, loneliness, restlessness and feeling lost to reflect the fact that there will always be trouble in the Christian life. Yao said the second half of the concert refers to Christ’s crucifixion and explores the question, “What is the freedom we have in Christ?” through themes of joy and happiness.
Fomby added that the setlist reflects the idea that even in difficult circumstances there is still hope at the end, and she expressed hope that the audience would feel encouraged by this message.
Yao said he tries to balance presentation of the music on the one hand and personal relationships and supporting members through whatever questions they have on the other.
“The key thing that we’re aiming for isn’t like beautiful music, but I think a place where our hearts understand the lyrics and the music that we sing in a way that allows us to sing the music historically, religiously and culturally authentically and [to] be able to present that to the audience as well,” Yao said.
Zhang echoed this sentiment, saying the group’s emphasis is not on singing for the sake of singing but on conveying a message. The group sees its performance as a conversation between the soloist and audience, and the song introductions serve to craft an emotional experience and coherent narrative through music.
“There’s a big emphasis, I think, on being a unified group and having unified beliefs regarding not just faith but also the direction of the group, for example, and the vision of each concert,” Zhang said.
The group ended the performance with the traditional closing song “The Lord Bless You and Keep You,” joined by an alumnus in the audience.
Living Water recently completed a tour at Los Angeles and San Diego over spring break.
Eui Young Kim | firstname.lastname@example.org