African-American music for Pro Cantare finale

Concert: Chorus will feature works of black composers, performers.

May 02, 2002|By Betsy Diehl | Betsy Diehl,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

If art imitates life, then you just might learn more about a culture by going to a concert than poring through scholarly texts.

In that vein, the Columbia Pro Cantare Chorus will celebrate African-American culture Saturday with the season finale, "Music of African-American Artists."

The concert will feature two notable African-American soloists, soprano Kishna Davis and baritone Lester Lynch, and the Howard County Children's Chorus.

"Music and art always reflect the history and culture of any group of people in time. What was happening to people affected the music they wrote," said Frances Motyca Dawson, founder and artistic director of Columbia Pro Cantare.

"Part of the chorus' mission is to present different cultures. We try to have an enjoyable evening and an educational one."

The music for Saturday's program reflects African-American history and brings to the stage selections that were composed, arranged or performed by African-Americans, Motyca Dawson said.

"I tried to have a cross section of things," she said. "We can't cover everything, but we have something representing some of the styles and different segments of African-American tradition and African-American composers and writers."

The program spotlights black history as it progresses from traditional spirituals with roots in Africa, to jazz numbers performed by legendary artists such as Count Basie's "Going to Chicago Blues" and Duke Ellington's "It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing."

Listeners are likely to recognize many of the tunes - "Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho," "Wade in D' Water" and the George Gershwin classic from Porgy and Bess, "Summertime" - but the audience will also be treated to a couple of firsts.

"Lift Every Voice for Freedom," arranged by composer Moses Hogan, will be performed for the first time in Maryland at Saturday's concert, Motyca Dawson said. The piece is a patriotic composition written in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

"It's not off the press yet," Motyca Dawson said. "You can't buy it yet. [Hogan] sent us a copy two months ahead of schedule."

Another premiere performance for the county is Elam "Ray" Sprenkle's arrangement of "The Creation," using lyrics written by the late James Weldon Johnson, an African-American statesman and writer of the early 20th century.

Sprenkle, a professor of musicology and music theory at Peabody Conservatory, will give a lecture before the concert addressing the history of African-American music.

Each year, the chorus dedicates concerts to various cultures. Past performances have featured Czechoslovakian, Hungarian, Polish and Jewish music, said Motyca Dawson.

The idea to highlight African-American culture came from Davis, who grew up in Columbia. "She was thinking of the grander vision of where she grew up," Motyca Dawson said. "We were going to have it during Black History Month, but the soloists' schedules became quite complicated."

In addition to the music and lecture, a visual art exhibit from the African Art Museum of Maryland will be on display.

The selections for the chorus's 25th season finale are "looser" than the Mozart, Brahms, Beethoven and Mendelssohn that the group typically performs, Motyca Dawson said.

"It's a fun way to end the season," she said. "The general public will love this - great talent, great music, great spirit. There's something in this performance for everyone of all ages and temperaments."

The Columbia Pro Cantare will perform "Music of African-American Artists" on Saturday at Jim Rouse Theatre for the Performing Arts at Wilde Lake High School, 5460 Trumpeter Road, Columbia. The concert begins at 8 p.m.; a free lecture by Peabody Conservatory musicology professor Elam "Ray" Sprenkle begins at 7 p.m. Advance tickets are $23 for adults and $20 for students and senior citizens, or $25 and $22 at the door. Information: 410-465-5744 or 410-799-9321.

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