Saturday, August 6, 2016

"The Seven Last Words of the Unarmed" - On its 20th anniversary, Sphinx presents a historic new work featuring the University of Michigan Men's Glee Club

The Sphinx Organization and the University of Michigan Men's Glee Club are pleased to announce a partnership in presenting a newly composed work titled "The Seven Last Words of the Unarmed" by composer Joel Thompson. This commission is made possible in part with the support of Linda and Stuart Nelson. 

“We are honored to partner with Michigan’s Glee Club on such an important milestone year! The work of Joel Thompson and Eugene Rogers has been truly visionary: we feel that the piece embodies the power of the arts during this critical time for our communities” said Sphinx President and Artistic Director Afa Dworkin.

This work, adapted for the professional Black and Latino Sphinx Symphony and Michigan’s Glee Club, will be premiered on Feb. 12, 2017 at the Max M. & Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center as part of the much-anticipated 20th anniversary of the national Sphinx Competition. The Detroit Symphony Orchestra and the Max M. & Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center are Sphinx’s key artistic partners in the Sphinx Finals Concert. U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance Professor Eugene Rogers, whose arrangement of “Glory” will close the celebration, will direct the performance.

The Sphinx Organization is the Detroit-based national organization that works to create positive change in the arts field and in communities across the country through its mission of transforming lives through the power of diversity in the arts. Sphinx programs reach over 100,000 students, as well as live and broadcast audiences of over two million annually, and are organized into four main principles: education and access; artist development; performing arts; and arts leadership. With signature programs, including the Sphinx Competition, Sphinx Virtuosi Tour and SphinxConnect, the growth of African-American and Latino classical string performers in orchestras across the U.S. has been directly connected to the work of the Sphinx Organization.

Founded in 1859, The University of Michigan Men’s Glee Club is one of the oldest collegiate choruses in the United States. The group has won the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod (Wales) on four separate occasions and have had concert appearances at renowned halls such as Lincoln Center, Kennedy Center for the Performing, Shanghai Oriental Arts Center, Salt Lake City Tabernacle and many more.

Joel Thompson is the Upper School/Middle School Chorus Director at Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School and a graduate of Emory University, both based in Atlanta, GA. Born and raised in the Bahamas to Jamaican parents, Joel is a first generation immigrant in the U.S. and believes deeply in music’s ability to serve as a powerful tool of expression and empowerment for immigrant youth. Having originally orchestrated the piece for choir and string quintet, Thompson states,“ I feel as though I’ve been given the opportunity to transfer a miniature charcoal sketch to a wall ­length canvas with vibrant oils. I’m excited about the challenge of capturing the emotions in more vivid detail without destroying the intimacy and humanness of the original. When writing the original, I wasn’t thinking about performance, as the piece’s composition was a personal exorcism of painful emotions. I didn’t see the need to balance the dark with the light. So, I’m also thrilled to be orchestrating Dr. Rogers’s brilliant arrangement of Glory in tandem with Seven Last Words of the Unarmed. With this expanded palette, I know I will be enticed to try and say more, but my aim is to stay out of the way of the music and let the voices of the victims be heard once again in this orchestration. Above all, I’m excited to learn and grow and share.”

For box seating and to support this anniversary concert, including meeting the composer, please contact Teresa Clark at 313-877-9100 x706 or

To purchase $15 general admission tickets for this concert, please visit the Detroit Symphony Orchestra box office at or at 313.576.5130. For group tickets, contact DeRon Wilson at or at 313.576.5130.

For general questions about the Sphinx Competition Finals Concert, please contact

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Thanks so much for your continued support!  
André Dowell
Chief Programming Officer
The Sphinx Organization

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