Four April choral concerts explore the Black experience

Christian Holy Week music dominates the first week in April (Palm Sunday through Easter), but there are several opportunities to explore both sacred and secular music the rest of the month. 

Events in recent years (such as the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others) have pointed to the need for a broader understanding of what it means to be Black in America. Leaders of choral organizations across the nation have taken it upon themselves to address this issue, and this month we have a concentration of local concerts shedding different rays of light on the Black experience.

Classical Roots Community Choir

Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra: Classical Roots

April 14, 7:30 p.m., Music Hall, Over-the-Rhine 

This annual presentation melds Black gospel with the traditional symphony orchestra, mass choir and, this year, the bigger-than-life personality of Donald Lawrence. Lawrence is a 1980s CCM musical theater grad who made it very big in the gospel and R&B realms. Pops Conductor John Morris Russell leads the massed forces in a wide-ranging celebration of African American music. Jason Alexander Holmes, Cincinnati Boychoir music director, leads the Classical Roots Community Choir.

Gospel singer Callie Day

Viva Voices‘: I Have a Dream’- A Choral Tribute

April 22, 6 p.m., Allen Temple AME Church, Bond Hill

In 2021, conductor Tony Burdette established a multitiered Northern Kentucky choral music organization: children’s choir, youth chorus, adult chorale and select vocal chamber ensemble. For this concert, the two adult Viva Voices choirs join forces with the Central State University Chorus and gospel star Callie Day. The program features choral and solo repertoire of varying styles – classical, gospel, spirituals and pop – and will commemorate the 60th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Free, with donations encouraged. 

Fluidity’s Matthew Moquin-Lee

Fluidity: ‘Bending the Arc’

April 23, 5 p.m., Hebrew Union College, Clifton

Fluidity, a Creative Choral Community for a Cause, raises funds to benefit partner nonprofit organizations, in this case the Ohio Innocence Project. The intent here is “to bring awareness to inhumane, wrongful deaths and reclaim the humanity of seven black men.” The vehicle is composer Joel Thompson’s “Seven Last Words of the Unarmed,” which will be inlaid within the sacred music of Gabriel Faure’s tender, consoling Requiem, led by music director Matthew Moquin-Lee. Prior to the performance, a select group of recently exonerated community members will inform the audience of OIP’s impact on their lives and in our community. 

“Underground Railroad” author William Still

Vocal Arts Ensemble: Paul Moravec’s ‘Sanctuary Road’ 

April 29, 7:30 p.m., Aronoff Center, downtown

The Vocal Arts Ensemble has been the region’s premiere chorus for more than four decades. This 2017 oratorio by Pulitzer Prize winner Moravec draws on stories from William Still’s book “The Underground Railroad.” Still, an African American conductor on the Underground Railroad, facilitated the escape of some 800 fugitive slaves, recording in detail their accounts and eventually compiling them in his landmark 1872 book. For this performance, music director Craig Hella Johnson has commissioned a new chamber orchestration intended to better suit VAE’s reduced choral forces.

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