THE LEGACY CONTINUES: Moving forward with the vision of Choral Arts Founder Norman Scribner (1936-2015) majestic voices continue to join together to honor the dignity and humanity of slain Civil Rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
PHOTO CREDIT: Shannon Finney Photography –Conductors Stanley J. Thurston, Theodore Thorpe, III, Michelle Fowlin and Scott Tucker join with guest soloist Charles Anthony Bryant (second left) for a company bow.
by Patrick D. McCoy
There are few concerts that happen in Washington that bring not only a diverse cast of musicians together, but also a diverse audience. The spirit of last Sunday’s concert brought together a capacity audience in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. There was a festivity in the atmosphere as the voices of Choral Arts and the Washington Performing Arts Men, Women and Children of the Gospel came together to sing the dream in unity with one another. Lonnie G. Bunch, III, the director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture was honored by Choral Arts with the 2018 Humanitarian Award.
Each year, there are standard selections that people come to enjoy, but a few new pieces are introduced to the faithful audience who come each year. Though there was no big fanfare or announcement, conductor Theodore Thorpe, III mounted the podium officially as Artistic Director of the Men and Women of the Gospel. Familiar to recent Kennedy Center audiences during the holiday season, Thorpe conducted at the Christmas Celebration presented by the Alfred Street Baptist Church. With his inviting, charismatic nature, Thorpe invited the audience to ‘have church’ as he led the combined choir in the rousing “Come Thou Almighty King.” The emotional tone of the evening had been established as the audience eagerly accepted Thorpe’s gracious invitation.
Choral Arts Artistic Director Scott Tucker led the Choral Arts Chorus in two traditional spiritual arrangements. “We Shall Walk Through the Valley in Peace” arranged by Moses Hogan was certainly a reverent call to reflection. Filled with both dynamic and emotional contrast, the voices of Choral Arts were given further support by the bass section of the chorus. The classic spiritual “Ezekiel Saw de Wheel” by Willliam Dawson was a perfect example of text painting, with the choir for a moment sounding just like moving wheels leading up to its ending, Choral Arts was accorded a rousing applause.
Theodore Thorpe, III returned to lead the Washington Performing Arts Men and Women of the Gospel in two rousing gospel sections: “The Lord is Blessing Me” which was a hand-clapping, full-throttled expression of praise and “Under His Wings” a beautifully introspective song of comfort and assurance.
Children of the Gospel Alumnus Charles Anthony Bryant returned for another year as guest soloist. Conductor Michele Fowlin took the stage to lead the youthful voices of Children of the Gospel. Something that was amazingly different was that not only did Fowlin conduct the young voices in the dramatic “Genesis” she also showcased her lyric soprano and she offered floating descants intermittenly throughout. As usual, the choir under her direction brought the audience to its feet. “Awesome God” was truly an affirmation, even in such perilous times. Bryant’s voice is a wonder in the way that he teases the audience with glimpses of his classical music training and then almost out of no where soars with soulful abandoment.
Following the presentation of the 2018 Humanitarian Award to Lonnie G. Bunch, III, Theodore Thorpe conducted the combined choirs in “Great and Marvelous” by Wayne Bucknor. Bucknor’s majestic anthem provided the perfect punctuation to this glorious moment. With a wide range of musical expression, the work expanded from being lyrical and legato, fugal and leading to an impressive ‘Amen’ with the full combined choir singing at a full forte.
The theme of ‘unity’ was a constant theme throughout the concert. Stanley J. Thurston let the combined choirs in “In My Father’s House” with guest artist Ralph Herndon. A favorite of the late Norman Scribner, Herndon has remained a fixture of this special celebration. Soaring vocals and a soulful touch at the piano is definitely his trademark.
As the concert moved towards it’s close, traditional spiritual arrangements book-ended the program. These songs are very important to the African American Experience and added a reverent depth to the work preceding. As a prelude to the group of spirituals, Movement III of “Seven Last Words of the Unarmed Man” by Joel Thompson was a gripping account of the murder of “Amadou Diallo” with the last words that he was said to utter, “Mama, I’m going to college.” The soaring soprano soloist (who was not listed) added a radiance to a subject that almost offers no solace or hope. Conductor Scott Tucker created a beautiful seamless continuation at the piece’s conclusion into the group of spirituals that followed. This gave the audience no time to applaud, which would have reduced such an emotional moment.
With voices united, the combined choir sent the audience away with a glimpse of hope as they sang “I Still Have Joy” and the traditional “If I Can Help Somebody.” Both songs stirred the hearts of the listener and brought the evening to a joyful close.
A native of Petersburg, Virginia, Patrick D. McCoy is a graduate of Virginia State University and Shenandoah Conservatory in Winchester, Virginia. He has been an arts contributor for Examiner.com, CBS Washington, The Afro American Newspaper and most recently was the Performing Arts Columnist at Washington Life Magazine for whom he interviewed Joshua Bell for the magazine’s arts column “Perfect Pitch.” As a church musician, he currently serves as Organist/Choirmaster at Saint John’s Episcopal Church (Zion Parish) in Beltsville, Maryland and teaches applied voice on the music faculty at Virginia State University. Visit www.patrickdmccoy.com for all of your arts news and send press releases and ideas to email@example.com. He dedicates his musical pursuits to the Glory of God, in loving memory of his mother Velma Ann McCoy-Pulley (1956-2017).