Friday, February 25, 2011

Barrie Examiner: 'Nathaniel Dett offers gift of song' via Nathaniel Dett Chorale, led by Brainerd Blyden-Taylor

[Brainerd Blyden-Taylor, Conductor/Artistic Director, The Nathaniel Dett Chorale]

The Nathaniel Dett Chorale will perform with the King Edward Chorale on March 6 at Collier United Church, 112 Collier St., Barrie, Ontario at 7 p.m. For ticket information, call 705-734-0116.

Updated 1 day ago
“Music and culture meet next weekend in what will likely be one of the most eclectic concerts of the season. The double choral event features the King Edward Choir and the Nathaniel Dett Chorale performing a program of Afrocentric music. The Nathaniel Dett Chorale is one of the only professional, largely black choirs, in North America and was the first of its kind in Canada when conductor/ artistic director Brainerd Blyden-Taylor founded the group back in 1998.

"The mission then is the same as it is now -- to build bridges between people and dissolve stereotypes through music. Part of that process is learning about the history and cultural context of the songs, which in turn, affects how the music is sung, and ultimately how it is heard by an audience. Working with Blyden-Taylor on all of it provided an element of excitement for the classically-based King Edward Choir.

"'Spirituals have many, many layers,' the charismatic Blyden-Taylor tells the choir during a rehearsal this week, describing how a slave on the auction block might feel, being poked and prodded like a cow for sale to the high bidders. Or how the words heaven and freedom were synonymous in some songs. Or how freedom wasn't necessarily the driving force in every black person's life -- some were not prepared to pay the price of freedom because a full belly in the moment meant more than a nebulous dream. Telling the stories behind the music not only brings the songs to life, it helps the choir translate it into sound, rhythms, melodies, words and syncopation.

"'(It's) good for the choir,' said Barbara McCann, artistic director and conductor of the King Edward Choir, who received a Trillium Grant to have Blyden-Taylor conduct the concert. 'We're trying to bridge different kinds of music and culture, everything. The choir (King Edward) is going to be part of that experience.' The 21-voice Nathaniel Dett Chorale is performing in the first half the program and the two choirs join together in the second half. The highlight of the first half is expected to be the chorale's performance of the Nguzo Saba Suite, a major work that was also recorded on the group's new CD, released in December 2010. The title means seven principles in Swahili and it grew out of the Kwanzaa Festival which was created some 40 years ago in response to the Watts Riots in California. The seven principles run the gamut from unity to self-determination, cooperative economics, and faith. The music is a mix of classical, gospel and jazz and it will be sung in English.

“The choir is named for Nathaniel Dett, a celebrated black composer who was born in Drummondville, near Niagara Falls, Canada, in 1882. During his lifetime, he earned numerous degrees, performed at Carnegie Hall, as well as for two presidents, Hoover and Roosevelt, taught at several schools, was an organist for a time in Niagara Falls. Through it all he was dedicated to black music. He was also a founding member of the National Association for Negro Musicians. He died in 1943 in Michigan.

The King Edward Choir joins the Nathaniel Dett Chorale for the second half of the program which will include a couple of Dett's compositions, arrangements of various spirituals and a jazz arrangement of Abide with Me by Greg Jasperse. Blyden-Taylor was born in Trinidad Tobago, his background on his father's side African, his mother's Scottish.” [R. Nathaniel Dett (1882-1943) is profiled at, which features a complete Works List by Prof. Dominique-René de Lerma of Lawrence University Conservatory.]

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