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The Dessoff Choirs Presents “Freedom Concert” Inspired by Coretta Scott King

Hailed as “one of the great amateur choruses of our time (New York Today) for its “full-bodied sound and suppleness (The New York Times),” The Dessoff Choirs culminates its 93rd season with a “Freedom Concert” inspired by the late Coretta Scott King (b. April 27, 1927), wife of Martin Luther King Jr., and advocate for African-American equality. In this dynamic program, Dessoff offers a choral tapestry reflecting on the Civil Rights movement of the past while promoting hope for the future. The program’s centerpiece is Ralph Vaughan William’s plea for peace, Dona nobis pacem. Robert Sirota’s homage to the nine victims of the Mother Emanuel AME massacre, Prelude and Spiritual for Mother Emanuel, works by African-American composers, the well-known civil rights freedom song, “Oh Freedom,” and Bach’s Dona nobis pacem from Mass in B minor round out the program. (Please scroll below for complete program details.)

Known for singing with conviction, expressivity, and passion, the 60+ members of The Dessoff Choirs will call up the universality of hope for salvation and pleadings for peace. “Through this remarkable concert, The Dessoff Choirs is affirming its values and the contribution of cultural diversity to our civil society,” says Malcolm J. Merriweather, ninth Music Director and conductor of The Dessoff Choirs. “The ‘Freedom Concert’ is a shining example of this mission.”

The Civil Rights movement captured the nation’s attention in 1963, and musicians/composers proved no exception. The marches, protests, and tragedies of 55 years ago influenced some of the greatest artists of the 20th and 21st Centuries. “We’ve appropriately joined choral pieces that commemorate this important moment in our nation’s history. According to ideas of humanity and salvation, the songs we chose were part of the movement, while others were inspired by the events of the era, and/or more recent injustices.”

The concert presents works by three female composers: Nancy Wertsch, Undine Smith Moore, and Libby Larsen. The rousing Black Gospel arrangement by Wertsch of the great American hymn Blessed Assurance, commissioned and premiered by the Riverside Church in 1985, was broadcast nationally the following year during the inaugural celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day at Dr. King’s own Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. The piece has since become standard repertoire for that holiday. Influenced by Bach and black folk music, Moore was a visionary composer hailed as the Dean of Black Women Composers. She was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1981 for her Scenes from the Life of a Martyr, a 16-part oratorio on the life of Dr. King. Larsen’s moving Cry Peace complements the program, comprised of the word “peace” in many languages. Larsen is one of America’s most prolific and most performed living composers known for capturing the contemporary American spirit.

Embodying the power of forgiveness is Prelude and Spiritual for Mother Emanuel by husband and wife team, Robert and Victoria Sirota. The work was written in memory of the victims of the June 17, 2015, shootings at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Prelude and Spiritual for Mother Emanuel is written in memory of the nine faithful souls who were murdered during a Bible Class in an act of racist terrorism on 17 June 2015 at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and is dedicated to their families who revealed a deep faith in a loving God when they were able to express forgiveness to the killer two days later,” says Victoria Sirota. Ralph Vaughan Williams’s cantata Dona nobis pacem is another urging from the composer for communal action for peace. It is paired with Bach’s Dona nobis pacem from the Mass in B minor. As part of its season-long celebration of Leonard Bernstein’s (1918-1990) centenary, the choir honors Bernstein’s rich legacy by performing the third movement, “Adonai, Adonai Lo gavah libi” from Chichester Psalms, considered a plea for peace as well.


 Saturday, April 28, 2018, at 4:00 p.m.

 Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew, 263 West 86th Street, New York, NY, Train: 1 to 86th Street

Tickets: $20-40 in Advance. $25-45 at Door. Children Ages 12-17: $20 in Advance/$25 at Door. Children Under 12: FREE. To purchase, visit

About the Author

New York Trend is a weekly news publication that focuses on issues and lifestyles of the African & Caribbean American communities throughout the New York metropolitan area and Nassau and Suffolk Counties of Long Island. It is a respected and well recognized news publication that has been in existence since 1989. Owner, Publisher and Executive Director, Dr. Teresa Taylor Williams has been at the helm of this award-winning publication since its inception. New York Trend continues to be the only black woman-owned, metropolitan newspaper in New York and Long island. New York Trend is the largest black-owned newspaper throughout Nassau and Suffolk counties.

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