These spirited sounds are sure to inspire many 'hallelujahs' Music: The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the Moses Hogan Chorale spread the 'good news' of Christmas in the solemn notes of Handel's 'Messiah' and the hand-clapping beat of gospel

December 12, 1997|By Judith Green | Judith Green,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

An article in yesterday's Today section said last night's gospel concert with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra was taking place tonight.

The Sun regrets the error.

Though Moses Hogan and his chorale are the central attractions of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's "Gospel Christmas" tomorrow, gospel is not their specialty. The 40-year-old conductor is better known as an arranger of black spirituals.

Spirituals and gospel are two separate strands in the tapestry of African-American music, Hogan explained recently in a telephone interview from his home in New Orleans.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

Spirituals, the songs of work and faith, are the bedrock of African-American music, the raw material on which much is based. Its syncopated rhythms and broad, firm tempos show that these songs were sung to make the workday go more smoothly. Though the stories are mostly from the Bible, the language is everyday and uncomplicated, even when the text describes hardship or hunger or the yearning for freedom.

Gospel, which grew out of the spirituals, is upbeat worship music, based on the "good news" of the first four books of the New Testament. Thomas Dorsey, a jazz musician of the 1930s who is considered the father of gospel, underscored texts of affirmation with jazz harmonies. His up-tempo settings brought singers and listeners to their feet.

"It's the movement and hand-clapping that many people associate with gospel," Hogan said.

The concert will have plenty of that, as well as carols and choruses from Handel's "Messiah."

Hogan will conduct the four spirituals, which are sung without accompaniment. The 50-voice chorale will sing "I Can Tell the World," "Mary Had a Baby," "Go Tell It on the Mountain" and "A-men," in arrangements by noted African-American choral musicians Roland Carter and Jester Hairston, as well as Hogan himself.

Charles Floyd will conduct the chorale and the orchestra as they perform the other works on the program.

Floyd first met Hogan at a summer music camp when they were teen-agers. They also overlapped as students at Oberlin College Conservatory of Music in Ohio. But in the decades since, this is the first time they've worked together.

Miryam Yardumian, the BSO's artistic administrator, was responsible for their reunion.

"When I was putting this program together, I called the Boston Pops to ask if they knew a good gospel conductor, and they recommended Charles," she said. "I called Moses to tell him who we were considering," Yardumian relates, "and he said he'd never worked with Charles, but he knew he'd be wonderful."

Neither is doing what he thought he would when they pounded away in the piano practice rooms of Oberlin.

Hogan's choral arrangements have made him a sought-after director of choral clinics and workshops. His chorale performs live with orchestras and has made several recordings; its next project is a CD of spirituals with Metropolitan Opera soprano Barbara Hendricks, scheduled to be recorded in the spring.

Floyd is Natalie Cole's music director and a frequent director of pops concerts. He will conduct a PBS special, "Christmas With Denyce Graves," which will air on Maryland Public Television (Channels 22, 67) on Sunday at 4: 30 p.m.

"We'd have been strictly pianists today if it weren't for gospel and Negro spirituals," said Hogan.

Yardumian has known Hogan since 1973, when he was the 16-year-old winner of the New Orleans Philharmonic's youth auditions. He learned the ropes of the symphony trade in the orchestra's back shop.

"I started out there stuffing envelopes," he said. "I learned the whole symphony business from Miryam."

Yardumian, who was director of public relations for the New Orleans orchestra, remembers Hogan's "wonderful curiosity about every aspect of the music business [and] entrepreneurial kind of talent," which he was able to explore as her unofficial intern and assistant.

Their friendship opened her eyes in an unexpected way. "I had never lived in the South, and it was a rude awakening to bigotry," said Yardumian, who is from Philadelphia.

One of her memories is of walking with Hogan on a city street and having a man, seeing a black teen-ager and a young white woman together, "actually come up and ask me if I needed help," she says.

On another occasion, when she was taking Hogan to a local school for a musical presentation, they stopped for lunch at a little restaurant. "No one would wait on us," she said, an edge to her voice. "I finally had to go over [to the counter] and ask if we could get something to eat.

"I don't know if Moses ever knew about the man coming up to ask if I needed help. But he knew what was going on in the restaurant. He always had warmth and dignity, and it was as if all those things did not exist."

Hogan's experience on the business side of music has led him to try something different with his choir. Though the Moses Hogan Chorale is based in New Orleans, its director also maintains working choirs in New York and Washington, using them for concerts in those areas.

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