John Frayne | UI glee club concert promotes peace | Music

On April 9, a concert was given in Foellinger Great Hall by the University of Illinois Varsity Men’s Glee Club, conducted by their music director, Barrington Coleman. The concert was called “New Awakenings I: A Spring Concert of Reflection, Hope and Strength.”

Eleven compositions were performed, mainly by the glee club, but also by members of the UI Black Chorus Male Ensemble, the UI Chamber Singers Male Ensemble, “The Other Guys,” the Jupiter String Quartet, and pianists Caleb Wayman, and Casey Robards. Coleman was joined at the podium by his assistant, Yeheun Kwon, as well as guests Robert A. Harris and Ollie Watts Davis.

The evening opened with a short speech by Coleman in which he called for hope in new beginnings, as inspired by the music performed, while he memorialized the deaths of Black men under tragic circumstances.

The concert started with a 2015 work entitled “An Elegy: A Cry from the Grave,” written by Carlos Simon, who dedicated it to Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown and “others murdered wrongfully by an oppressive power.” Simon, who an assistant professor at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, wrote the work for string quartet. At this concert, it was performed by the Jupiter Quartet, an ensemble in residence at the UI.

To this somber music, a solo dance was performed by Arinze Okammor, a dancer who is also a member of the men’s glee club. To slow, tremolo music, Okammor performed a series of eloquent motions, with impressive spins. As the music grew more impassioned, the dancing grew more violent, until it ended with an abrupt stop, and I then heard the cry, “Free, Ya!”

In the following procession, the chorus entered to soft string music, then louder music from a brass quintet, as Jake Patterson was soloist in Patrick Doyle’s setting of “Non Nobis Domine,” (“Not to us, O Lord”). Vincent Persichetti’s “Song of Peace” was then gently sung by the chorus, and this was followed by an energetic singing of Alice Parker’s version of the work song “Keep Your Hand on That Plow,” with Coleman’s solo voice alternating with the chorus, by Kwon.

The major work of the concert was Joel Thompson’s 2015 “Seven Last Words of the Unarmed,” for chorus, piano and string quartet. The structure of this work was inspired by Joseph Haydn’s famous “Seven Last Words of Christ,” and Thompson also chose quotations from Shirin Barghi’s documentary work “#Last Words.”

The musical treatment ranged from soft elegiac music to emotionally charged, violent outbursts from the chorus and the instrumentalists. After a quiet beginning about the death of Kenneth Chamberlain, the music exploded, expressing Martin’s words, “What are you following me for?” In contrast, Amadou Diallo’s words — “Mom, I’m going to college” — were delivered with slow repeated pleadings, and this pattern was repeated in sections for Brown, Oscar Grant, John Crawford and Garner. This work powerfully expressed sorrow and outrage, thanks to the impassioned singing of soloist Omari Moss and the chorus, as well as the playing of the members of the Jupiter String Quartet and pianist Casey Robards.

After intermission, Watts Davis led members of the UI Black Chorus Male Ensemble — tenor Isaiah Calaranan, violist Elizabeth Freivogel and cellist Daniel McDonough — in Robert Gibson’s arrangement of John Newton’s “Amazing Grace.” In this melodious version, the cello began, then the tenor voice entered, followed by all the chorus, and after alternating groups of performers, the solo tenor ended this lovely work.

Then, Robert A. Harris, professor emeritus at Northwestern University, who has been one of Coleman’s mentors, led the chorus and a brass quintet in his “All the Land Weeps,” a commission dedicated to Coleman’s 25th anniversary at the UI. This work strikingly contrasts the timbres of the chorus and the brass group. The words set were originally published in the Chicago Tribune in April 1865 upon the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

To close this stirring program, Coleman led a rousing performance of his version of Pauline Oliveros’ “A New Indigo Peace.” Along with the glee club, the Barrington Coleman Jazz Trio and brass instrumentalists, we in the audience were urged to join in singing words that ended with the basic message of this concert: “We want Peace, Right Now!”

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