December 4, 2018
New Generation Singers
DEFINITION: Having component elements pleasingly or appropriately combined; Characterized by harmony of sound
If we had to describe the New Generation singers in a song, what would it be? This is a serious challenge. The song would have to include 48 years. 48 states. Six Canadian provinces. Hundreds of alumni. Thousands of frozen pizzas sold. And thousands upon thousands of hours spent rehearsing, planning, writing, encouraging, listening and laughing across multiple faith denominations. Lots of laughing.
The New Generation singers, known as New G, are a highly-energetic and original voice for St. Joseph. And they’re hard to define, in all the best of ways.
In fact, the singing is just the beginning. The students, ages eighth grade to early college, take on leadership positions and work on committees within the group, across the year, as they create and carry out their pinnacle two-week summer tour. Membership to New G is open to anyone within the age parameters, regardless of experience with singing.
“Many of our members do really enjoy singing, but some join us for the social aspects or to build their leadership skills. Others enjoy the planning, the writing of the shows, the production and the travel,” says Byron Myers II, music director/leader/professional volunteer/alumni for New G since 1998. “And some students come to us out of sheer curiosity and end up staying. We enjoy all the kids, across all faiths, and it’s always been a very open door.”
There’s a legitimate sense of roots and of belonging in these words. Myers and his wife, Carol, are the second generation to lead the group. It was started by his parents, Byron and Phyllis Myers, in 1970. “At that time a lot of Christian music groups were hitting the road and changing their format of their music. We were definitely one of many groups around. But we stayed and have continued to grow,” he explains. Today, the group performs locally throughout the year and at several national (and international) locations along an annual two-week summer tour.
Touring the Nation, St. Joseph Ambassadors
“We’ve taken these kids all over the United States and several Canadian locations as ambassadors for St. Joe,” says Myers. “I think it’s important that kids can have a place where they can develop their talents, build friendships, and build their faith all in the same environment. As we travel and perform, people see that they’re not ‘just kids.’ We produce and deliver something that’s impressive for St. Joe to the whole country, across all kinds of audiences.”
While the New G singers have performed primarily in churches, they have also shared their talents at venues like parks, arenas, fairs and inside the base of the Statue of Liberty and the Chapel of West Point. While performing at the nation’s capitol, they earned a mention in the Congressional Record. At a performance in Lake Chautauqua, New York, at the annual Chautauqua International Institute, the group met Dr. Norman Vincent Peale. Dr. Peale invited them to appear at his publishing company, Guideposts, a relationship that lasted several years and included performances at Guideposts area churches. The shows include some speaking parts, drama elements, special lighting and sound – and from time to time, creative ways to deliver the message, such as ventriloquism.
Summer tour themes change each year and reflect the group’s inventiveness and mission. A few past favorites include “Brighter than the Sun,” through the Canadian Rockies and rafting in Yellowstone; the “Who Am I?” tour, set in the nation’s capital, Philadelphia and many surrounding sites; and “Out of the Blue,” a tour through California and Route 66, with many stops along the way. In 2016, the “In the Works” tour included New York City and a Broadway musical. New G has appeared in concert with the Harlem Gospel Choir of New York City and many other notable locations.
More than Singing
There’s a great deal of spontaneity and creativity at the weekly Sunday evening meetings, but it’s set within a well-planned framework. Part of the year is set aside for selecting and planning the year’s tour theme. There’s significant fundraising that supports the group equipment and travel, typically involving frozen pizza and food item sales. (Many St. Joseph residents have come to anticipate some “New G pizza” sold at their front door.) There’s the rehearsing and the communication tasks to help arrange area visits, plus local singing events – including annual Christmas performances.
“We’re not just standing on the risers and singing. There’s a lot of work going on, too,” says Myers. “There are several designated crews on tour. We all have goals we’re working for, and that makes us unique. Everyone in the group has to help ‘pull the wagon’ in some way,” he says.
In a time when youth have many sources of competition for their time and attention, Myers believes New G offers something unique – and that it was meant to be located here in the Midwest.
“St. Joe was the right place to start New G. It’s a big enough city to support the group, but not too big to overshadow a group like ours. It’s a community that sees value to what the kids are doing. Thanks to so many people volunteering and getting involved, this group is a place where kids feel like they can really do something that makes an impact.”
A Musical Foundation
Working with youth in a musical setting comes naturally to Myers. He holds a B.A. in psychology and a master’s degree in social work. He has a minor in music and has seen his share of the stage as part of a quartet called “The Noise Boys.” The group has performed across the country and earned several barbershop harmony awards. He’s also directed Voices of America, a men’s a capella group also based in St. Joseph.
Anyone who attends a weekly New G rehearsal or a performance and observes Byron Myers II in action can see that making music an adventure is something that just runs in the family. His father and New G founder, Byron Myers I, is also no stranger to musical expression and success. He’s known regionally for his work with barbershop music with quartets, including as part of the Mid-Continentals, the Kippers and the Saint City Singers, as well as with the St. Joseph Sweet Adeline’s Show Chorus and the American BarberBoys. He is past president of the Central States District of the Barbershop Harmony Society and conducts director workshops across the country.
So Many Surprises on Tour
Youth leadership is another hallmark of the group’s longevity and success. Group “sponsors” (a.k.a., couples or individuals who care deeply about youth and also volunteer a lot of hours) oversee the group, the members elect officers. These officers then help recruit members, plan social activities, plan and coordinate tours, shows and PR, alongside several other roles throughout the year.
“The kids put a lot of work into the program,” says Myers. “This includes everything from promoting our next tour location to packing ice in our soda coolers and making sure the bus is ready to roll each day. Some manage lights, risers and sound elements because that’s what they are interested in.” Current New G student president Jackson Connors recalls some meaningful and fun moments along different tours. “We had the chance to sing in the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., and that’s something we won’t forget,” he says. “Last year, we sang in Joplin, Mo., in a church that had been hit by the massive tornado. The space had been devastated. It was awesome to singing in a space that so many people had worshipped in, but to also see it emerging as a new space, too. We were able to hear their stories first-hand.”
Reflecting on fun memories, Connors explains that the group took a wrong turn onto a non-bus freeway outside of New York City. “It meant we had to eventually back up and away from an area where our bus wouldn’t fit. It was kind of a crazy fiasco, and we ended up rolling into the singing venue right at 7 p.m. People were waiting and expecting us to start singing. Our whole crew pulled together and got the show set up in 10 minutes. This was an impressive moment and it helped the students to see that even when you plan for things, things can happen – so being flexible is really important.”
Connors’ role in the group and is career decisions demonstrate the deeper impact of the group on members. Now a music education major at St. Joseph’s Missouri Western State University, Connors says “This group put a lot of music in front of me, and there were some in the group who were music education majors and have since moved on to teaching positions. They helped guide me on my path.”
Five Decades of Alumni Connections
New G alumni describe the group as “close-knit” and “diverse.” They have professions in education, chemistry, real estate and other fields. Those that have become sponsors give their time to each aspect of the organization, from planning to fundraising to rehearsals and even on tour. The group of past sponsors numbers well into the 60s, and the group of alumni reaches more than a thousand. Several New G alumni traveled to attend the recent memorial service in Springfield, Mo., for the former senior pastor at Wyatt Park Christian Church, where the group originally met and rehearsed.
“A lot of kids say ‘looking back, it was New G that was the beginning of faith for me or of a new and lasting friendship,’ or even a career path. We plant seeds that grow from here. We teach leadership and a sense of community that lasts and lasts, across the generations,” says Myers.
New G sponsors, alumni and parents Chad and Cailey Carlson agree. “We met as students in the program. With our daughter now in the group, we have seen her learn to manage travel on an independent level as they tour. She’s learned more about her faith, about public speaking and so many communication skills. New G was important to us as youth, and it’s so great to pass this on to our daughter now, too.”
The longevity and impact of the organization is known to alumni, but also to current members. Alanna Bryson, age 15, says “To me, the fact that New G is in its 48th year is an amazing thing. It means that this beautiful group that works so hard every year to spread the word of God all over the country is still going strong. I think that truly means that God has our back because He’s let us get this far, and hopefully will help us get even further.” Myers believes the name “New Generation” singers is still relevant. “At the time we were created, new voices were sharing their faith and hope. Today, we honor the present generation for their ideas about unity and we try to really listen to what they’re feeling. Yes, the music and the instruments and the theater aspect keeps them coming back. And the social aspects and the adventure of the tour. But it’s also a way they can speak and connect together and work toward something with a purpose.”
Even with nearly five decades of success, sometimes people joke with Myers about the idea of taking 100-plus students by bus across the country or across the Canadian border – with all the associated luggage, gear and paperwork.
He responds simply: “At 48 years of singing, it’s clear that God still has something He needs this group to do. And we’ll keep moving toward it.”
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