Saturday, August 6, 2016

Eric Conway: Morgan State University Choir sings Beethoven and Hannibal with Philadelphia Orchestra at Saratoga Springs

Hannibal Lokumbe

Dr. Eric Conway writes on Thursday, August 4, 2016:

Hello everyone,

Last night the Morgan State University Choir performed at the very prestigious Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) in beautiful Saratoga Springs, New York. In fact, last night’s performance was even more significant in this was the opening night of the fiftieth season of the venue.  This venue historically has been the summer home of the New York City Ballet Company and the Philadelphia Orchestra.  The covered amphitheater seats over fifty-two hundred, however, being an outside venue, as many as twenty thousand can be accommodated on the lawn which naturally slopes downward to give an almost-unobtrusive view of the stage.  USA Today newspaper ranks the SPAC as the best outside venue in the country.  The stage featured a shell that practically catapulted the sound out to the audience. The venue features top talent from all over the world, including pop and rock names as Grateful Dead, Snoop Dog, Smokey Robinson, and Janet Jackson.

Originally, when we were asked to perform, I was reluctant due to the timing of the concert - the middle of the summer.  Many of my choir members do not normally reside in Baltimore when school is not in session, so it is problematic to try to rehearse in the summer time.  After our spring concert I rehearsed as much as I could with the choir's departure to Cuba being very imminent.  Since then, I have had a few summer rehearsals to keep the music in our ears.

We were asked to perform excerpts from  "One Land, One River, One People”, the composition we premiered with the Philadelphia Orchestra in October, and the iconic Beethoven Ninth Symphony (Ode to Joy!).  We would sing these pieces with a quasi-professional chorus from near-by Albany, Albany Pro Musica led by José Daniels.   We would be put up at Skidmore College from August 1-4, eating our meals at the college dining halls.  I was immediately skeptical of these arrangements, having not stayed in dorms since my college years.  

Upon arrival, my worst fears were realized, standard dorm accommodations - although very clean.  It did not seem like a good decision to accept the invitation upon arrival.  However, I must confess my choir and I thoroughly enjoyed our time at the college.  The campus was beautiful in the way only an upstate New York campus could be.  Many compared cuisine to five-star restaurants in presentation, quality, and taste. The choices, although varied from day to day, featured a pizza bar, enormous salad bar, station of only vegetarian cooked meals, a sandwich deli station,  a homestyle-comfort food station, and a dessert bar with many different types of baked goods, with exceptional cookies.    Although we were only given a pillow, sheets, and one thin blanket, we all slept incredibly well.  I presume the reason for the quality slumber was the crisp quality of the air and cool temperature, it never got about 79 degrees while we were there, dipping down to the fifties at night.

It never occurred to us, but Saratoga Springs is famous for what - the springs! All around the community are natural springs with a high mineral content in the water.  It is believed that the water has medicinal qualities.  Many of us went into town to experience the springs via free fountains in the center of town with access to mineral water for anyone who had a water jug.  Some went to area spas that featured soaks in warm mineral water at body temperature to relax the muscles and release the toxins.  Afterwards many paid for a relatively inexpensive massage to continue the process of detoxification and relaxing the muscles.  See attached a description of uses of mineral water for overall wellness.

We were able to connect again with soprano, Laquita Mitchell and tenor, Roderick Daniels, who premiered the Hannibal piece in the fall with us.  In the Beethoven we heard the booming bass voice Morris Robinson and sultry voice of Mezzo-Soprano J’Nai Bridges.   This was a very strong quartet for the Beethoven Ninth. 

The performance went extremely well.  Many in the audience proclaimed that this was a world-class performance  Each member of the Albany Pro Musica must have come up to me to thank me personally for bringing the Morgan Choir to sing with them.  The director asked me if I might be interested in another Beethoven performance with the Albany Symphony in April, 2017. We must see with our calendars if this is possible.  

In the turbulent times that we live today, there was a spiritual connection between both Hannibal’s One Land, One River, One People” and Beethoven’s Ninth.  Both pieces dealt with humanity!  The Hannibal about creation and getting in touch with one's inner-self to understand who we truly are as a people.  The Beethoven Ninth central theme was brotherhood: we are all brothers and sisters in the human race: let’s rejoice!  The symbolism was powerful as we had older caucasian singers and younger African American singers, coming together to sing collectively in one voice.  Everyone left the venue on a spiritual high!  Thus, the transformative power of music!

Eric Conway, D.M.A.
Fine and Performing Arts Department, Chair
Morgan State University
1700 East Cold Spring Lane
Carl Murphy Fine Arts Center, Room 329C
Baltimore, MD 21251

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