Before playing or singing a single note on Saturday evening, the members of the Missouri Symphony Orchestra and an impressive number of guest singers will tune in.
They will listen to the cries of freedom from the slaves who rose up over 150 years ago; tune into the lives of composers, teachers and musicians who have traveled artistic paths before them. Then, during the concert, they will continue to tune, ringing the truth that we live our freedom together.
As part of its Hot Summer Nights festival, the Symphony Orchestra will present Singing in the Key of Freedom at the Missouri Theatre. The concert celebrates Juneteenth, a holiday marking the functional end of slavery. Juneteenth refers to June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers delivered good news to slaves in Texas – they had been declared free.
“This news came two months after the end of the Civil War and years after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed slaves on paper but not immediately in reality,” said the guest chef Brandon Boyd in an email.
Saturday’s concert includes “patriotic hymns, gospel songs, secular popular music, excerpts from Ragtime opera, black folk songs, as well as non-idiomatic classical works by black composers,” said Boyd, assistant professor choral conducting and choral music education at university. University of Missouri.
The program’s broad and deep repertoire represents Boyd’s belief that “the music of the black tradition is one of the most important stories when it comes to understanding the history of this country.”
“This concert will explore how black musicians have secularized the sanctified with expressive voice, moving lyrics and deep rhythmic feeling, tapped into their classical roots and found the freedom to be free to write from their hearts,” a- he declared.
Singing in the Key of Freedom is a “sister concert” to recent programs hosted by the Odyssey Chamber Music Series focused on spirituals, Boyd said.
Boyd is the perfect person to guide the program, said Symphony executive director Trent Rash. A “spellbinding” presence, Boyd not only puts on a strong concert, but conveys the purpose of the music with great passion, he added.
“He really has a drive for what he believes in,” Rash said.
On Saturday, Boyd will bring together the orchestra and a group of guest singers from across the United States. Guest soloist Nobles of Na Guanda, nicknamed “The HighArt Diva”, has performed in the United States and Europe with opera houses and orchestras; perhaps most notable, she sang with the London Symphony and alongside jazz lion Wynton Marsalis and the Boston Symphony.
Singing in the Key of Freedom also finds Boyd listening to his personal musical history. He first heard the work of black musicians performed by an orchestra when he was 18 years old. The piece, a Roland Marvin Carter arrangement of “Lift Every Voice and Sing”, preceded Carter’s great influence on Boyd’s career.
Boyd also counts his graduate conducting teacher, Andre J. Thomas, as a formative figure. Earlier this month, Boyd and Nobles – among others – traveled to London with Thomas, where they performed works by black composers with the London Symphony Orchestra.
There, Boyd saw Thomas “share the music of our ancestors with the best musicians and singers in the world,” he said. Such experiences reshape their audiences, Boyd said, an effect he expects to repeat on Saturday.
Bringing Nobles and other guest singers into conversation with the Symphony Orchestra “will mix colors that we just can’t get with the piano alone,” he said.
Boyd looks forward to the musical moments set to arrive on Saturday, including a medley of melodies by Walter Hawkins, orchestrated by Joseph Joubert, whom Boyd called “one of the finest orchestrators in this world.”
He’s also looking forward to hearing Nobles sing Brandon Waddles’ arrangement of “He’s Got The Whole World In His Hand.”
“It’s a truly unique setting with luscious jazz harmonies but a heartfelt treatment of that folksy tune that doesn’t distract from the heart of the message,” Boyd said.
Boyd only learned of Juneteenth in college, he said. Bringing his sound, his spirit and his story to wear this weekend, he hopes to underline a meaningful message.
“I see this event as a celebration and a reminder that we are free and must live as free people, not just black people but all people,” he said.
Doors to Saturday’s concert open at 6 p.m.; tickets are $25. Visit https://themosy.org/summer-music-festival/ for more details.