What made you decided you wanted to do this music?
As long as I can remember I have loved rhythm. It makes me want to move, to dance! Spirituals, gospel and jazz all have a strong sense of rhythmic interplay, even at slower tempos, and theater music often does too. It makes these styles very appealing.
Why do you think it's important?
American music is unique in the world. It's a fascinating blend of European and African traditions, and it spurred a prolific burst of creativity in styles and sounds, and influenced all kinds of genres, including classical music. We are showcasing important American composers and styles--blues, jazz, gospel, the music of Duke Ellington, George Gershwin, of African Americans, of white Americans, and it's good music, well worth hearing.
Why should audiences come see it?
It's our music, important to our cultural history. It's part of who we are as a melting-pot nation. It's really a meeting place for us as a people; it speaks to us. It's our story! Plus, the uptempo pieces are terrific fun! Even our rehearsals have been amazingly energetic and happy!
Which piece are you particularly proud of/excited to show?
It's hard to pick out just one, but there are two pieces from Duke Ellington's Sacred Concerts that are particularly exciting, "Come Sunday" and "The Lord's Prayer." They are not often performed, although Ellington considered his Sacred Concerts among his most important works. "The Lord's Prayer" will be sung by our guest artist, an up-and-coming young African American tenor called Kevin Douglass, and I am particularly pleased to have him as a guest. I guarantee you will hear The Lord's Prayer in a whole new light! He is also singing with MCE in some of our gospel numbers, and his improvisational skills are fabulous.
Is there something about this kind of music that audiences might not know that they should?
Many people don't know that Duke Ellington wrote sacred music! He didn't do so until the last few years of his life, and it reveals a side to the man and his music that is surprising to many. Regarding spirituals, many don't know that they were often used as a kind of signal song, often to signal an impending escape via the Underground Railroad. And many don't know that the roots of modern gospel music can be found not only in spirituals, but in the blues! We have a couple of examples of gospel/blues numbers.
What do you find inspiring about this kind of music?
The stories it tells, often of suffering and pain, but also of hope, of joy, of the triumph of the human spirit over difficulties. Music has a way of heightening emotion, and it's no accident that these heartfelt expressions find their best and most inspiring voice through music.