I was thrilled today to get an e-mail from Jonathan Miller, founder and artistic director of Chicago A Cappella. Jonathan let me know that a number of tracks from their early 2012 Spiritual Concert entitled "Wade in the Water" were featured on the BBC Three Radio show “The Choir” hosted by Aled Jones this past week and that for a few days more anyone can go and listen to the program online. One of the featured pieces is my arrangement of the very soulful spiritual ”Blind Man”.
Chicago A Cappella is one of the few Illinois-based choirs that has shown continued, strong interest in my music. I am always kind of surprised and I guess bemused by the lack of interest, in general, in my music from Chicago and Illinois groups and directors. At times I feel I am much more appreciated in Portland and Seattle, or South Korea, or Michigan or just about any place other than here where I live (oh well!). Anyway, I have always been thankful to Jonathan and CAC mover/shaker (and great baritone) Matt Greenberg as they have regularly embraced my spiritual arrangements and other pieces like “Play with your Food” (yum, mashed potatoes) over the last ten years.
These days I feel spirituals are being unfairly ignored. I suppose this is a reaction to the many years where the big honking loud ones were used as kneejerk concert-enders. Some directors apparently grew tired of seeing them used in such a cliched way and stopped programming them altogether. Yet today, all these (admittedly concert) arrangements of our special musical history should not be ignored. Please, choral folks- especially younger directors, listen to more of this music, embrace it, and start programming it again. It comes from the pain and suffering of real people, and then somehow, through the magic of music, transcends that pain- either in a radiant, quiet glory or shout out celebration. It's time for more people to get back to this amazing heritage- whether it is the arrangements from back in the day (Burleigh, et al), the more modern arrangements by Moses Hogan and Adolphus Hailstork, and also the very newest arrangements done right now by just a handful of dedicated composer/arrangers who don't mix in annoyingly inappropriate jazz or gospel threads into the form. By the way, you might want to read my review of The American Spiritual Ensemble's amazing spiritual concert in Memphis a couple years ago, for more thoughts and ideas on the spiritual tradition. This was one of the great choral concerts I have heard in my lifetime. You can read that here:
But now please visit BBC Radio soon to hear Chicago A Cappella sing a number of spirituals. Their portion of the program, which originally aired May 20th (the title of the program “American Sardinians” is a reference to the lead story) begins at the 52:00 minute mark, and my piece begins at 1:01:15. I'm tickled that host Aled Jones singled out “Blind Man” with a few words of praise- describing it as “haunting” and then also taking the trouble to give the Biblical reference point for the story. Thanks, Aled- gotta love the Brits!
PS Don't miss Cari Plachy Dinglasan's wonderful solo turn on Robert Morris' “Save Me, Lord”.