Performance by Norfolk State University Concert Choir Uplifts and Educates
The Norfolk State University Concert Choir opened its concert program at Norfolk Academy on Tuesday with the uplifting spiritual “Ain’t-a That Good News.”
It was the best kind of news for Norfolk Academy Middle and Upper School students and faculty, who were launched on a musical exploration of the soaring harmonies and restless rhythms of African American spirituals and gospel music.
The 38-member concert choir, under the direction of Dr. Harlan Zackery Jr., has performed at the nation’s most prestigious concert venues, including Washington National Cathedral and twice at the White House. Dr. Zachary interacted with the audience between songs, taking full advantage of the opportunity to educate students on the historical experiences that gave rise to the spiritual; the concert included a succinct video lesson about the Atlantic slave trade, in which an estimated 10-12 million Africans were shipped to the New World. The impact of the slave trade affected the economies and histories of large parts of the world.
The choir shifted moods with ease. “Ezekiel Saw the Wheel,” an example of an uptempo folk spiritual used to pass along a Bible story, gave way to “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” written in 1932 by Thomas Andrew Dorsey, often called “The Father of Black Gospel Music,” to mark the death of his wife and infant son.
The choir delivered a rousing, passionate rendition of “Glory, Glory, Hallelujah,” the Negro spiritual by Robert Sims. Its lines “I’ve been resting from my labors, since I laid my burden down” was a reminder of Dr. Zackery’s point, early in the concert, that spirituals were a “piece of music that came out of slavery...and gave them a way to get through the day...and how to get to freedom.”