Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Exploring & Exalting Spirituals in Concert at SsAM
By Guest Blogger, Chuck Holdeman
Chuck is a regional composer of lyrical, contemporary classical music, including opera, orchestral music, songs, chamber music, music for film, and music for educational purposes. www.chuckholdeman.com
The fourth annual spirituals concert at Wilmington's Episcopal Church of Saints Andrew and Matthew was heard by a large and appreciative audience on Sunday evening, January 26. Led by the church's music director David Christopher, the varied program featured choral music, two vocal soloists, The Chamber Choir of the Wilmington Children's Chorus, as well as Christopher performing organ solos. His relaxed presentation of each piece kept the whole audience in his hand, providing fascinating background about the music's African-American roots, including the Go Down Moses organ fantasia by the late Nigerian-American composer Fela Sowande, who left no device untried, from Bach to Max Reger, from tragic to triumphant.
Included was a nod to the choral tradition of Fisk University — Rockin' Jerusalem by John Wesley Work III. The program also included masters of the genre Harry T. Burleigh (the sung version of Go Down Moses) and William Grant Still (Here's One). While most of the selections were part of the older spiritual tradition, one selection was, in Christopher's word, "gospelized," Mark Hayes' dancing version of This Little Light of Mine. The evening's two soloists were the church choir's irrepressible Tina Betz and the young professional mezzo and UD graduate, Melody Wilson. Wilson possesses a rich colorful voice, especially in the middle register. This spring, Wilson will participate in the recording of Terence Blanchard's jazz opera Champion. Wilson will sing in the chorus, also serving as understudy to Denise Graves.
The Wilmington Children's Chorus, under the direction of Kimberly Doucette, sang André Thomas' Keep Your Lamps, accompanied by the solo djembe drum of associate director Phillip Doucette. The young group of about 40 sang with wonderful precision and tone — even the young bass singers sounded convincing and full. The djembe part seemed to be intended to give life and variety to the many verses in slow tempo, but nevertheless came off as an add-on, somewhat out of the style of the song.
The church choir was augmented by members of Christopher's Delaware Valley Chorale. It was a pleasure to see seasoned artists like Dana Robertson there to add luster to the music. Audience participation was also part of the mix, and Clayton White's arrangement of Ain-a that Good News from Horace Boyer's African-American Hymnal (LEVAS II) was a stand out. Christopher told me afterward that he was impressed and delighted by the big sound of the audience's voices!