Fisk Jubilee Singers to bring music and a message
Published: Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 22:03
Since 1871, Fisk Jubilee Singers have been on a mission to share the art form of Negro spirituals, making music for kings, queens and presidents, as well as the common folk around the globe. But equally important as the music is the message, says Dr. Paul T. Kwami, director of the a cappella group.
“The message is that there are beautiful things in the world and music is one of the sources of this beauty,” says Kwami, a native of Ghana who was a Fisk Jubilee singer himself in the 1980s. “As we study and perform music, we discover this beauty and share it with others. This may take the form of encouragement, expression of love, expression of our faith in God and the knowledge of our responsibility in sharing our gifts with other people for the good of the world. Music gives us more than just entertainment.”
Fisk Jubilee Singers will share this traditional music and its messages of hope and love at East Tennessee State University on March 26 at 7:30 p.m. in Martha Street Culp Auditorium. The 16-member ensemble will be joined by the David Crockett Madrigal Singers on four pieces, and under the direction of DCHS Choral Director Kelly Sams, the high school chorus will perform four pieces from the Madrigals’ repertoire. To help prepare the 20 Madrigal Singers and teach them this special style of singing, Kwami has made three visits to Crockett High School, one in January, February and March.
The program for the March 26 performance will include pieces by well-known African-American arrangers such as Moses Hogan, Undine S. Moore, Jester Hairston, John W. Work III and William Dawson, as well as one of Kwami’s own arrangements. Spirituals will include “Soon-Ah Will Be Done,” “Ain A That Good News,” “Poor Man Laz-rus,” “Nobody Knows the Trouble I See” and “The Battle of Jericho.”
Stressing the importance of such music in global and arts culture is also part of the focus of Kwami’s educational gift to these area students, and critical to that education is “understanding,” he says.
“One thing I am very particular about is having an understanding of the music that is being performed, that is, the message of the song that is being performed,” Kwami says. “Without an understanding, the performer cannot effectively share the message. When my students sing with understanding, it helps the emotion and emotion is a very important part of music when it is performed and then it affects the audience …
“Once they understand what we are singing about, it speaks to them, and therefore they understand it and have fun with it. I know that some people may not agree with me, but I have come to realize that Negro spirituals today can be used to achieve some beautiful things and if you ask my students, they will tell you it is true. I know the benefit of understanding what the songs mean today.”
The benefits of the community collaboration, Sams says, will last much longer than the end of spring term. “These students and I are participating in a musical opportunity that we will remember all our lives,” says the Milligan College master of education.
“I still can’t believe we were chosen to participate in this project! I can already see improvement in their musicality in the short time Dr. Kwami has worked with them. They’re paying attention to the details and expressing the music with such emotion.
“We’re also being introduced to a genre of music in a way that I would never have been able to fully communicate to them without this opportunity. They’re experiencing the collaboration firsthand with such a remarkable musician … Having the opportunity to sing with such a prestigious group as the Fisk Jubilee Singers is an incredible opportunity for all of us.”
Enhancing student experiences is one of the missions integral to the way funding was established for the Mary B. Martin School of the Arts, says its Director Anita DeAngelis.
“At a time when funding for education is diminishing somewhat — yet we know how important it is — it is wonderful to have someone in our community say, ‘It is important for me to see these kinds of activities in our schools,’ ” DeAngelis says. “It’s a good opportunity for our local students to come in direct contact with an artists’ organization and perform with them. It’s going to be great fun to see what happens.”
In addition to the message and music, the Jubilee Singers are also sharing a rich tradition, not only of spirituals but also of their own ensemble and historic school in Nashville.