spirituals

courtesy of the artist

Western Michigan University's Live and Interactive series continues at 7:30 pm Wednesday, Feb 19 with a performance by guest artist John Wesley Wright. A tenor who can switch between opera, Broadway, and American styles, he will be joined by WMU voice faculty and student ensembles for a concert called Spirituals: From Ship To Shore

In an interview with Cara Lieurance, also including Dr. Ken Prewitt, a professor of voice at WMU, Wright talks about working with Western students in his residency, and teaching them to perform spirituals without sheet music. Wright and Prewitt preview some of the concert's highlights, and Wright talks about how his desire to be a performer began in childhood, when he saw the television series Fame. A member of the American Spiritual Ensemble for 14 years, he credits Ysaÿe Barnwell of Sweet Honey in the Rock and singer Linda Tillery as personal and professional influences.


C. Lieurance

A group of prominent local musicians will gather to present a program called "The Reason Why We Sing: A Free Lecture-Recital Advocating for the Recognition and Inclusion of Black-American Sacred Music" at 2 pm on Saturday, Oct 26 at Portage United Church of Christ. It was the idea of Monica Washington Padula, who grew up performing in her Lansing church from the age of 7. Washington Padula has a master's degree in music from Western Michigan University and is a versatile performer of keyboard, saxophone, and voice.

Along with requesting participation from singers Rhea Olivacce and Carmen Bell, pianist Rufus Ferguson and the Lansing-based Earl Nelson Singers, Washington Padula reached out to Dr. Romeo Philips, the respected Kalamazoo College professor emeritus of music and education. Now 91, he remembers hearing stories from his great-grandmother, who had been enslaved on a Mississippi plantation. A trumpet player before his academic career, Dr. Phillips became interested in the sacred music of Black America by attending choral concerts presented by black colleges that visited his Chicago hometown. Later, he joined the Umbrian Glee Club, and the National Association of Negro Musicians. When he received a professorship at Kalamazoo College in 1968, he and his colleague Clarence Small, who formerly sang with Wings Over Jordan, founded the Afro-American Chorale.

In the Takeda studio at WMUK, Washington Padula and Phillips perform several examples of spirituals, including "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child," "Wade in the Water," "I'm Gonna Tell God All of my Troubles," "Give Me Jesus," and "No More Auction Block For Me." The significance of Black American sacred music to American culture cannot be overstated, according to Washington Padula. She explains that the preservation of this music, which has come close to being lost and forgotten at times, requires as much care and attention today as before. But Padula Washington and Phillips agree that the music has always adapted to the times and informed and reflected other Black American styles that came along. Phillips says that in the beginning, spirituals were sung for three main purposes: for worship, for emotional support, and for signals to escape enslavement. All will be demonstrated at the event on Oct 26. 


Maundy Mitchell

Velvet Brown, a top concert tubist and educator in the US., could easily make her recitals "by-the-book" affairs for tuba and piano. But for years, Brown has crafted her concerts to open up in several ways. On Wednesday, Oct 9, she will bring her project MOJATUBA to the Dalton Center Recital Hall for a concert at 7:30 pm. 

Professional dancer Briana Bunkley will dance to Brown's playing on several pieces, from the mournful spiritual "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child," to the ecstatic "Mambo-Cha" by Alice Gomez. Percussionist Jimmy Finnie will add color to the program, as will pianist Anthony Leach and audio-visual artist Daniel Burdick. Brown will also celebrate Black American music in her program. These pieces include her transcription of William Grant Still's Suite for Violin and Piano, Roger Kellaway's Dr. Martin Luther King, In Memoriam, and "Take My Mother Home,a song written for soprano Kathleen Battle by jazz/classical composer/conductor Andre Previn.