From the world-beloved freedom anthem "Lift Every Voice and Sing" to T. J. Anderson's avant-garde "Call and Response," the Atlanta Music Festival explores the dynamic character of American music and arts through the lens of African American concert music.
This contemporary annual event draws on a century-old musical and cultural heritage. In the wake of Atlanta's 1906 race riots, Henry Hugh Proctor, Pastor of Atlanta's First Congregational Church, instituted programs to improve the prospects of black communities and to encourage racial harmony. In May of 1910 white Atlantans produced a highly publicized grand opera week, featuring New York's Metropolitan Opera. Possibly in response, Reverend Proctor formed "The Atlanta Colored Music Festival Association," which produced its first concert that August. Thanks to the association's cordial invitation, among the some 2000 attendees in Atlanta's Auditorium-Armory was a large contingent from the white community. In an ironic transposition, the entire balcony was reserved exclusively for white seating. The festival featured the most prominent African American concert artists of the day. Reflecting years later, Proctor wrote: "Our Music Festival brought the best musical talent of the race to the city, and attracted great audiences of both races. As a matter of fact, we found that music was a great solvent of racial antipathies, just as David found it a solvent for personal antagonism with Saul." The concert was presented annually through 1917.
Dwight Andrews, current Pastor of First Congregational Church, revived his congregation's music festival tradition in 2001 through collaborations with the nonprofit worship-arts organization Meridian Herald, led by Steven Darsey. Since then the music festival, sponsored by Meridian Herald, First Congregational Church, and, from 2011, Emory University, with Andrews as artistic director and Darsey as music director, offers annual performances, engaged scholarship, lectures, the Atlanta Music Festival Conservatory for Youth, and university courses. Honoring Proctor's vision, the Atlanta Music Festival explores evolving racial and societal landscapes. a The 2011 Atlanta Music Festival featured a dramatic re-creation of the premiere of "Lift Every Voice and Sing." James Weldon Johnson—author, diplomat, and civil rights activist—wrote the hymn's stirring lyrics. His brother, singer and composer John Rosamond Johnson, composed the music. Five hundred African American school children premiered the anthem in 1900 for a commemoration of Abraham Lincoln's birthday in Jacksonville, Florida, where the Johnson brothers had been born. From there, the song has resounded throughout the world. Eleven decades later, the Atlanta Music Festival recruited, prepared, and brought choral students in grades four, five, and six from sixteen public and private Atlanta schools to Atlanta Symphony Hall on September 23, 2011. At noon that day, 577 children sang "Lift Every Voice and Sing" with heart-rending conviction. Inspired and shepherded by the much-beloved Rudolph Byrd, Director of Emory's James Weldon Johnson Institute and scholar of "Lift Every Voice and Sing," the re-premiere was among Professor Byrd's dearest accomplishments before his too early death, at age 58, one month later.
That moving rendition of "Lift Every Voice and Sing" is the first track of this CD. All the other tracks are from the concert culminating our 2011 festival on September 24 at Emory University's Schwartz Center for Performing Arts. Featured soloists—soprano Indra Thomas and tenor Timothy Miller, both Georgia natives—lend vocal artistry and cultural authenticity. The Chancel Choir of Atlanta's First Congregational Church evokes historic ties to the church and culture from which the 1910 festival sprang. The Meridian Chorale brings some of the region's finest soloists, and the renowned Morehouse College Glee Club adds virtuosity and arresting conviction. Dwight Andrews's compelling commentary puts the music in contemporary societal context, while the lived wisdom that Ambassador Andrew Young invests in his readings moves and enlightens the listener. a The music on this CD ranges in style from the traditional spiritual to the twentieth century avant-garde. Though performed by people of many races, all the music was composed or arranged by African Americans. The Atlanta Music Festival offers its CD to the public, with a hope—consistent with the hope of 1910 festival founders—that this music and these performances will inspire us all to recognize the good and advance harmony among all people.
Of Indra Thomas's performance as Imogene in Il Pirata at the Caramoor Festival, the New York Times wrote, "The mad scene was a triumph, especially its reflective first half in which Thomas' affinity for long-spun, slow melodic phrases was impressive. The audience awarded her a tremendous ovation." Considered one of the foremost Aidas in the world today, Thomas sang the role at the Chorégies d'Orange in a performance that was televised throughout France during the summer of 2011. For the 2011–2012 season, she will perform in concerts with the Rome Symphony Orchestra (Georgia), in a performance of Beethoven's Symphony no. 9 with the Philharmonia in Abu Dhabi, as Aida at the Hamburgische Staatsoper, and in a performance of Barber's Knoxville: Summer of 1915 with the Florida Orchestra under the direction of Stefan Sanderling. Thomas also will sing at the memorial service for Maestro Dino Anagnost, music director of the Little Orchestra Society of New York, in December.
Andrew Young is a founding principal and co-chair of GoodWorks International, where he has brought and active role to his long-held mission of facilitating economic development in the Caribbean and in Africa. Beginning his career as an ordained minister and top aide to Martin Luther King Jr. in the civil rights movement, he went on to three terms as a United States congressman before being appointed US ambassador to the United Nations. Subsequently, he served two terms as mayor of Atlanta and assumed a leadership position as co-chair of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games. In 1994 President Bill Clinton appointed him chair of the $100 million Southern Africa Enterprise Development Fund.
Dwight Andrews, a composer, musician, educator, and minister, joined the Emory College faculty in 1987. A native of Detroit, Andrews is associate professor of music theory and African American music at Emory and senior minister of First Congregational United Church of Christ in Atlanta. He received bachelor's and master's degrees in music from the University of Michigan and continued his studies at Yale University, receiving a master of divinity and a PhD in music theory.
Steven Foard Darsey holds the doctor of musical arts in choral conducting from Yale University and studied musicology with the late Peter le Huray at Cambridge University and conducting with Helmuth Rilling at the Internationale Bachakademie Stuttgart. He has conducted numerous performances and prepared choruses for Sir David Willcocks and the late Robert Shaw. Also a composer, he has written and arranged some 125 works. For his work on Georgia's Ossabaw Island for his oratorio setting of the Sidney Lanier poem "The Marshes of Glynn," he was named the 2010 Sandy West Ossabaw Fellow. President of Meridian Herald since 1986, he is also music director at Glenn Memorial United Methodist Church on the Emory campus.
A native of Augusta, Georgia, tenor Timothy Miller earned a BA from Morehouse College in 2003 and an MM from Mannes College of Music in 2005. He made his operatic debut with the Mannes Opera Program, performing the roles of Monostatos and First Armored Man in Mozart's Die Zauberflote. Miller has been a participant in both the International Institute of Vocal Arts in Chiari, Italy, and the Bay Area Summer Opera Theatre Institute in San Francisco. He appears regularly with the Atlanta Opera and at home games of the Atlanta Braves.
David Morrow is a native of Rochester, New York. He earned the bachelor of arts degree from Morehouse College in 1980. While at Morehouse, he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, was awarded the Kemper Harreld Award for Excellence in Music, and was named valedictorian of his class. He received a master of music from the University of Michigan in 1981, where he was elected to Pi Kappa Lambda, the national music honor society. He received a doctor of musical arts degree from the University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music in 1995.
Norma Raybon earned a doctor of musical arts in choral conducting from the University of Iowa. She was associate professor of music at Spelman College and director of the Spelman College Glee Club from 1991 to 1999. She also served on the faculties of the University of South Florida and the State University of New York. She has sung with the Chicago and St. Louis symphony choruses and currently is a member of the symphony chorus in Atlanta. She has served as president of the Georgia American Choral Director's Association and is currently minister of music at the First Congregational Church in Atlanta.
Todd Skrabanek began playing piano at age four and received early training from conductor-pianist William Noll. He earned a bachelor of music from University of the Arts in Philadelphia and a master of music from Georgia State University. He is presently the accompanist for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus, Meridian Chorale, and the Glenn Chancel Choir.
The Meridian Chorale
Meridian Chorale comprises some of the South's finest professional and amateur singers and strives for the highest standards of performance. Steven Darsey is music director. The group has been broadcast on WABE-FM and can be heard on the CDs Higher Ground: Camp Meeting Service and Southern Folk Advent, both with Fred Craddock preaching.
Morehouse College Glee Club
The Morehouse College Glee Club embraces a ninety-year tradition of musical excellence and achievement. Members of the glee club have earned such honors as the Merrill Travel Study Award for overseas experience, have been listed in Who's Who Among American Colleges and Universities, and been elected to membership in Phi Beta Kappa. Students do not receive academic credit for their work with the glee club but sing as a labor of love.
The Chancel Choir of First Congregational Church
The Chancel Choir of First Congregational Church sings for worship and for special events in the Atlanta area. Noted for authentic renditions of spirituals and jazz as well as disciplined interpretations of classical anthems, they bring character and spirit to the worship of God. Their leader is Norma Raybon, one of Georgia's leading choral directors.