THE MORGAN State University choir was specifically written into a 45-minute musical history of 350 years of African-Americans by the collaboration of the composer, Hannibal Peterson, and Nathan Carter, choir director, two friends now preparing for tomorrow's Baltimore premiere of "African Portraits."
"Hannibal composed the work with Morgan's choir in mind after we had sung with the American Composers Orchestra at Carnegie Hall a couple of times," Carter said. The talks between friends and others led to the first performance at Carnegie Nov. 11, a kind of trial run for tomorrow at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.
The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra co-commissioned the jam-packed show, which will see seven vocal soloists, dancers, LTC Peterson's quartet, Morgan singers and the BSO on stage trying two languages, English and Mandingo, to capture almost four centuries of history. Paul Lustig Dunkel, head of the American Composers Orchestra, will conduct in his Baltimore debut. The BSO said most of the free tickets are gone but a limited number may be turned back in and become available at the box office just before the 8 p.m. concert tomorrow night.
The evening is a tribute to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on what would have been his 62nd birthday. It will include the 80-plus member Morgan choir singing Roland Carter arrangements of two spirituals, "In Bright Mansions" and "You Must Have That True Religion," the BSO playing Adolphus Hailstork's "Celebration" and everybody singing "We Shall Overcome."
"We chose the spirituals with Dr. King in mind," Carter said. He recalled that "Dr. King was a Baptist minister, but he had an ecumenical attitude about life and was comfortable in different settings, with different music." Carter met King, but his brother, The Rev. Harold Carter, pastor of the New Shiloh Baptist Church, was ordained by King and knew him well.
King did have several favorite songs, Nathan Carter said. They included the gospel "Precious Lord, Take My Hand" written by the father of gospel, Thomas Dorsey; another gospel piece, "If I Can Help Somebody," and the hymn, "Someday" with the closing lines "This I know, if Jesus leads me, I shall get home someday."
Now in his 21st year at Morgan, Carter reports being "in great health. I feel like I'm just starting." He has built the choir into a versatile group singing classical, pop, gospel, sacred and other music with great flair attracting widespread recognition. Typical are the positive notices that followed recent appearances in New York and Washington.
The choir performs with other black college groups at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 11 at the Terrace Theater, Kennedy Center in Washington. A spring performance in Nassau, the Bahamas, is planned. The BSO chose it along with other musicians to close out this season June 13-14 in Mahler's Symphony No. 8.