Middle and Upper School students received a treat on February 28, as the Norfolk State University Concert Choir delivered two rousing performances that both captivated the audience and taught about African American Spiritual music.
Dr. Harlan Zackery Jr., Director of Choral Activities, is conductor of the Concert Choir, and Mr. Terry Butler is Assistant Director and accompanist for the choir, which has performed in concerts at The White House, Washington National Cathedral, the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, and many more historic venues over the past 75 years.
As Dr. Zackery explained, African American spirituals arise from the experience of slavery in the United States. They have a faith background, usually referencing stories Bible stories, and tend to have a sad, somber tone. But they can include more upbeat moments that express hope, hinting about what needed to be done to get to freedom. Some of them use dialect, such as “Po' Pilgrim of Sorrow," which the NSU Choir sang.
The performance also included a spiritual, The Battle of Jericho, sung by Upper School choral students. Director Cheney Doane said this experience, learning from the NSU choir, will be invaluable. “They will soak in all they see and hear," Mr. Doane said.
The concerts closed with the choir singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing," by brothers James Weldon Johnson and J. Rosamond Johnson. Dr. Zackery explained that this song was originally written for a school assembly in Florida in the early 1900s, as a tribute to Abraham Lincoln. The song went dormant for several decades, before becoming a rallying cry for the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and '60s. It has since become commonly known as the Black National Anthem, and the entire theater stood as the choir sang. Students gave the choir a prolonged ovation as the song ended.