The choirs of the University of Colorado Boulder will take this year’s Spring Collage Concert to mark Black History Month with song.
On Saturday, Feb. 20, the Collegiate Chorale, Women’s Chorus, Men’s Chorus, University Singers, University Choir and Table for Five a cappella group will perform together at First United Methodist Church in Boulder for a Choral Celebration of Black History Month.
“There is such beautiful music out there written by African-American composers, and we wanted to introduce our students and our audience to that music,” says Andrea Ramsey, Associate Director of Choral Studies at the College of Music.
The concert will include a variety of styles, including a piece written for a dance theater, and “Nature Boy,” which became a jazz standard after Nat King Cole recorded it in 1948.
While this concert will include some spirituals and gospel repertoire, the breadth of choral works by African American composers transcend these two realms. According to Ramsey, the Ave Maria by Nathaniel Dett could just as easily have been composed by Mendelssohn. "I want my students to think broadly about representation of composers on concert programs.
"There are so many examples of breathtaking music by black composers, female composers ... by composers outside the Western, white and male identity that seems to have dominated classical concert programs for so long."
Capping off the concert will be a combined performance of “Lord, Give Me Just a Little More Time,” conducted by the piece’s arranger, Derrick Fox. Fox, a music education professor at Ithaca College, focuses his research on African-American shape note—a tradition Ramsey says is little known to modern concert-goers and singers.
"His work is important ... in a sense, it is preservation as the tradition appears to be dying out," Ramsey says.
“This study is important because most of the music making that has been studied in the African-American community has been focused on the Gospel music and spirituals,” Fox says. “It was important to me to provide some way to bring attention to this practice.”
Shape note singing involves a seven-note scale characterized by syncopated rhythms, rich harmonies and an emotional singing style.
“Through the arrangement that you will here on the concert, I wanted to give singers and audiences and opportunity to sing and hear music of this practice,” Fox adds.
While he’s in Boulder, Fox will also present research on shape note to the graduate choral conducting class.
Ramsey says she hopes the community and her students alike will walk away from the experience with increased awareness of the beauty and variety of music available by African American composers. "It is my hope to allow the singers and audience to experience enjoyable music that perhaps they've not heard before.
"Diversity is a challenge in Boulder, and this is one step we can take to create beautiful music and at the same time open eyes and increase local awareness of the rich diversity of composers writing great choral music."
Fox adds, “I think the inclusion of the diverse kinds of music in our society is one of the easiest ways to provide people with the opportunity to understand and appreciate other cultures.”
The Choral Celebration of Black History Month is Saturday, Feb. 20, 7:30 p.m. at First United Methodist Church in Boulder. The concert is free and open to the public.