Performing Arts: Honoring MLK

by patrickmccoy

The Choral Arts Society of Washington brought Scott Tucker to the stage for the 25th MLK tribute. 

Choral Arts Artistic Director Scott Tucker conducts the finale of “Living the Dream… Singing the Dream,” the 25th anniversary MLK choral tribute. (Photo by Russell Hirshorn)

Perhaps one of the lasting signatures that founding music director Norman Scribner left with the Choral Arts Society of Washington and its new director, Scott Tucker, is the rich tradition of the annual choral tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr. Though Tucker has been present and introduced at prior concerts since he took the helm, the February 10 performance marked his second time taking the podium to publicly conduct the venerable ensemble. The tribute traditionally honors a figure in public life who has made real contributions for social justice and racial reconciliation. This year, former South African President Nelson Mandela was the recipient of the 2013 Humanitarian Award. Accepting the award on his behalf was South African Ambassador Ebrahim Rasool.

In past concerts, different musical selections, representative of various genres and styles formed the concert program. A nice contrast to that tradition was the programming of selections that were predominantly South African or reminiscent of that from the African diaspora. Adding to that was the award-winning dance troupe Step Afrika!, who performed on several of the selections during the evening. Sharing the podium were conductors Stanley J. Thurston, Michelle Fowlin and Scott Tucker.

Thurston conducted the combined choirs of the Washington Performing Arts Society Men, Women and Children of the Gospel and Choral Arts in Keith Hampton‘s “Praise His Holy Name.” The spirited gospel number was the perfect opening for the concert, not only unifying the different choirs, but also drawing in the crowd with a joyful beat.  Making his public conducting debut with Choral Arts, the rhythmic “Salmo 150” by Ernani Aguiar showed the audience  Tucker’s rapport with his “new” chorus. The singers were engaged and responsive to Tucker’s gestures and the climatic Alleluja of the setting of the revered Psalm 150 was greeted with whooping applause. Following the Men and Women of the Gospel’s soulful rendering of Aaron Lindsay‘s “Shout Unto God,” the Children of the Gospel stood to perform their unforgettable rendering of “Genesis” by Thomas Whitfield. Movingly narrated by director Michelle Fowlin, the choreographed choral setting of the Creation story evoked a reverence that ballooned into rapturous applause.

A twist to the concert was the incorporation of the dance troupe Step Afrika! in the performances of the traditional South African pieces “Ndlamo” and “Isciathulo.” The high energy of the ensemble coupled with indigenous dress further punctuated the tastefully themed program.  Concluding the first half of the program were the combined choirs and Step Afrika in the well-known Siyahamba. This is where Tucker won over the audience, first by welcoming them to join in the experience and also establishing that he was the conductor by jokingly scolding when the audience continued to sing, but not at his direction. In that moment Tucker asserted himself as the director and the audience ate it up.

The second half of the concert included a few gems of the African-American spirituals, including the moving “We Shall Walk Through the Valley in Peace” and vigorous setting of “Elijah Rock” both by the late arranger Moses Hogan. Making a turn towards traditional gospel, beloved friend Ralph Herndon soloed and accompanied the combined choirs in “I Still Have Joy” by Calvin Jackson. In the spirit of the pentacostal church style, the audience clapped and swayed, hoping the choir and soulful soloist would repeat the song’s refrain just one more time. Uniting audience and choir in a reflective conclusion was Bazel Androzzo‘s timeless song “If I Can Help Sombody.”

Recently named among the Forty Under 40 for his contributions to arts and humanities, Patrick D. McCoy received a B.M. in vocal performance from Virginia State University and an M.M. in church music from the Shenandoah Conservatory in Winchester, Va.  He has contributed arts and culture pieces to CBS Washington, The Afro-American Newspaper and the newly published book, “In Spite of the Drawbacks” (Association of Black Women Historians), which includes his chapter on legendary soprano Leontyne Price.  McCoy  has interviewed some of the most acclaimed artists of our  time, including Renée FlemingDenyce Graves, Norman Scribner, Julian Wachner, Christine Brewer and Lawrence  Brownlee.   Listen to these interviews and others  at Blog Talk Radio. McCoy may be reached via email at and on Twitter @PatrickDMcCoy.


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