On Friday, June 14, 2019, the Schiller Institute Boston Community Chorus teamed up with Stages of Freedom, which hosted the event, for an evening of history through music. Stages of Freedom is an organization dedicated to providing young African-Americans access to swimming programs, cultural programming, and educating inner-city youth by providing access to museums and live performance. Historians and Stages of Freedom founders, Robb Dimmick and Ray Rickman planned this concert at Manning Chapel (Brown University) specifically because of the role the Brown family played the slave trade.
By the time the concert began at 5:30pm, there was a sold-out audience of over 200 people.
Mr. Rickman opened the event by challenging the audience to not think of this event as “entertainment, but to improve your soul and spirit.” This, preceded by a stirring rendition of “I’ve been buked” by Hall Johnson, performed by the chorus a capella, set the tone for the entire event.
The concert featured the Schiller Boston Community chorus and soloists singing Spirituals and was carefully and dramatically orchestrated to portray the horrors of the Rhode Island slave trade and its gradual abolition through readings taken from The Notorious Triangle by Jay Coughtry and Disowning Slavery by Joanne Pope Melish. The unique and necessary participation of the chorus' dramatic performances of five Spirituals, a Mozart choral piece, soprano Michelle Erin's performance of Hall Johnson’s “Give Me Jesus,” baritone, Frank Mathis' “Goin’ Home” and excerpts from Roland Hayes “Life of Christ;” and soprano, Annicia Smith’s moving rendition of “Deep River,” were punctuated by the remarks of invited guest, Northeast Coordinator of the Schiller Institute, Dennis Speed. All the pieces were skillfully and beautifully accompanied by pianist, My-Hoa Steger. At the conclusion of the 90-minute concert, the chorus led the audience in “Lift Every Voice and Sing” as they processed outside the beautiful chapel to a receiving line on the green.
Many in the audience had never heard Spirituals sung in such an honest and dramatic way. Some people were visibly shocked when Dennis Speed said in his speech, that African-American Spirituals are Classical music. While this event was intended to shock people and create discomfort in facing the history of slavery, the role of the uplifting and never-enraged Spirituals played the crucial role in carrying out the mission of Friedrich Schiller and the Schiller Institute; it provoked the audience to be better people and to respond in an impassioned way. There is tremendous potential coming out of this concert, including a professional recording which will be sent out to thousands of people and future collaborators.
– Jen Pearl, Conductor, Schiller Boston Community Chorus - https://schillerinstitute.com/blog/2019/06/26/a-concert-for-freedom/