WHEN DREAMS COME TRUE: Nolan Williams, Jr., along with the Morgan State University Choir, NEWorks Voices of America Choir, Philharmonic Orchestra and guest soloists inspired through music.
(Cover Photo Credit: Jhon-Ochoa, Courtesy of NEWorks Productions)
by Patrick D. McCoy
The power of music is one that is undeniably transcendent.
That certainly was the energy that was conveyed as the Great Hall of Washington’s historic Nineteenth Street Baptist Church bustled with a diverse audience for this special concert. Conceived by Nolan Willams, Jr., ETHEREALITY was an evening of music that explored the connection between the spiritual and celestial realms. Often, it is shunned upon to draw parallels between the two. This concert drew not only connected the wonders of science, but the resilience of the human spirit through choral and symphonic offerings. In partnership with the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s Center for the Study of African American Religious Life, this program was inspired by a vision that perhaps was birthed at the historic church. Threaded together with deep, probing narratives, the presentation was notably underscored by the presence of famed mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves, who served as the evening’s Mistress of Ceremonies.
First performed by conductor Michael Tilson Thomas and the New World Symphony Orchestra in 2011, Saturday evening’s performance of “Sukkot Through Orion’s Nebula” composed by James Lee, III marked the DC premiere of the work. No stranger to Washington, Julius P. Williams, former conductor of the Washington Symphony Orchestra took the podium to lead the NEWorks Philharmonic Orchestra. Lee’s composition served as the musical overture . There was a sense of ‘stirring up’ by the orchestra-a conjuring of energy as the harp, strings and percussion created a mystical, atmospheric aura. As the piece swelled and billowed, the arch of sound was felt as the brass, along with the summoning of the tambourine brought the work to an rousing end.
“Hold Fast to Dreams” by Nolan Willams, Jr. received its DC premiere and was conducted by the composer. A myriad of emotions were felt as the listener was left to consider the ability to dream and aspire. The bursting energy in the opening strains conveyed a feeling of an awakening. The Morgan State University Choir and the NEWorks Voices of America Choir formed a ‘horseshoe’ of sound that wrapped around the audience. Soloists Detra Battle Washington, soprano, baritone Frank Washington and soprano Danielle Muse were vocally solid throughout, threading the thematic aspect of dreams throughout in a combination of solos and duets. Particularly in movement III, soprano Danielle Muse soared into the stratosphere, as if to convey a dream deferred. A feeling of tension could be felt as the wind instruments alternated with one another with a feeling of wonderment. The final movement had an ominous quality as its final strains was almost like the subject of a sentence without its predicate.
Uniting the community in quality presentations of music are is always meaningful. During the meditation “Heaven and the Hum,” Denyce Graves perfectly communicated the unifying power of music as the entire audience connected as a unison hum in the key of G buzzed throughout the hall. As the program moved towards its close, a collection of spirituals turned the attention to the historic plight of a people. The spiritual “Done Made My Vow” arranged by Williams was a musical experience that transcended mere performance. As tears visually flowed from the eyes of audience members and the orchestra alike, it was evident that what was being experienced was much more than a performance.
Perhaps the most known spiritual “He’s (She’s) Got the Whole World in Hand” also arranged by Williams provided the finale for the program as voices from choirs and churches across Washington wrapped around the upper balcony. As the world of classical music funeralized earlier in the day one of its most celebrated sopranos-Jessye Norman, it was so poignant to witness one of her most often performed spirituals close a masterful concert presented by a predominately African-American orchestra and aggregation of voices. What a tribute to her legacy!
Music gives way to expression to the dreams hoped for that our spirits may sing.
A native of Petersburg, VA, Patrick holds a BM in Vocal Performance from Virginia State University and a MM in Church Music from Shenandoah Conservatory. Formerly the Performing Arts Columnist for Washington Life Magazine, he currently is a freelance writer, publishing articles for several noted publications, including The Washington Post, Early Music America Classical Music Voice North America, The Afro-American Newspaper, CBS Washington and Examiner.com. He is a member of the Music Critics Association of North America, National Association of Negro Musicians, Inc., The American Choral Directors’ Association, a member of the Shenandoah University Alumni Board of Directors and a Life Member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. He serves as Organist/Choirmaster at Saint John’s Episcopal Church, Zion Parish in Beltsville, MD. Visit http://www.patrickdmccoy.com