As a nod to February being Black History Month, the Williamsport Civic Chorus is hosting and performing with the Essence of Joy Alumni Singers, who are under the direction of Dr. Anthony Leach, a professor of music and music education at Penn State University, in a program of American Spirituals. In conjunction with the Pennsylvania College of Technology, it is being presented as part of their observance of Black History Month. This unique and soulful concert will be offered on the campus of Penn College at the Klump Academic Center Auditorium on West Third Street, on Sunday, February 18 at 3 p.m.
According to Dr. Leach, the gospels and spirituals that the two groups will perform have a complex history — melodies and rhythms that trace their roots to the folk tales of various African cultures were often fused with Bible stories, and handed down through generations of slaves who dealt with their pain and horror through the uplift of song. In the late nineteenth century, those songs migrated from the field to the church, and finally to the concert hall, where African-American composers added complex arrangements, transforming the simple melodies into rich, soulful, expressions of the spirit. The songs chosen for this singular concert speak to faith and adversity, hope and longing — and the indomitable spirit of people who have known the deepest suffering imaginable.
Leach said, “While many Spirituals use sacred texts, others originated from ‘field yells and hollers’ while people worked in the fields. The ‘call and response’ format that enables a leader, preacher, or elder to ‘call out’ a phrase or response that was usually short and repetitive, helped alleviate some of the pain, disappointment, and horror that slaves encountered. There also many game songs that children sang while interacting with each other that are also in this category of music.”
The Williamsport Civic Chorus, now under the leadership of Musical Director, Michael Connor, is one of Williamsport’s oldest musical organizations, having been founded in 1944. The Spirituals concert is the Civic Chorus’ second concert of the 2017-2018 season.
For more than 70 years, the talented and dedicated singers of the Williamsport Civic Chorus have gathered together for the common purpose of perpetuating the richness and diversity of choral music for the enjoyment and edification of audiences and singers, alike. The singers join for many different reasons — to express themselves, to sing with friends, old and new, to improve as vocalists and/or to add to the cultural vitality of the greater Williamsport area. As the legendary author Hans Christian Anderson said, “Where words fail, music speaks.”
The Williamsport Civic Chorus looks forward to a rousing, meaningful collaboration with the Essence of Joy Alumni Singers. Tickets for “American Spirituals” can be purchased at a discount from Otto Bookstore, and Robert M. Sides Family Music Center, at the door, or online at http://www.williamsportcivicchorus.org. Penn College students are admitted free of charge.