On October 7th, guest blogger Mandy Meisner went to the “Send Me Hope” concert conducted by Roderick Cox. How was this concert different than the usual fare? Read on to find out.
Community. It’s a word I use often. It’s a rally cry and the great unifier among diversity. And community is also overwhelming challenge and profound heartache. It is all these things simultaneously, and we are responsible for shaping it into something good, while shedding light into the dark corners to see what is there.
Last month’s “Send Me Hope” concert is an intriguing proposition, incorporating cultural awareness, mixed art forms and difficult history. Throw in the venue of Orchestra Hall, a place that traditionally hosts the music of Mozart and Bach, and this unusual offering holds great appeal. Its origins extend back a year ago with a collaborative “Spirit of the Season” concert in north Minneapolis at Shiloh Temple International Ministries. Associate Conductor Roderick Cox led their church choir in a joint performance of the Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus with the Minnesota Orchestra, and the room-shaking experience demanded an encore.
From the very beginning of the “Send Me Hope” evening, the energy is palpable. Men and women crowd the lobby, a large number of them African American. Young children look crisp in their finest as they are pulled excitedly by their parents, and laughter bounces off in deep throaty cannons.
I take my seat and make acquaintance with the people around me; some have never been to Orchestra Hall before. They are beaming. When Roderick Cox enters the stage, you can feel the collective adore from the audience and performers alike. He says a few words that are heartfelt and welcoming, making the large space feel intimate. As he conducts the opening Ballade in A minor by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, I see the crimson lining of his jacket peek out in the wake of his passionate gestures.
The kids of the Shiloh Temple Drummer Boys and MacPhail Northside Youth Orchestra line on stage, as still as mice. Their faces are arranged in serious expressions, and one arcs his head to see the full scope of their fans, his eyes wide. When the drumming starts, they play their music with deep focus, their small arms piston in furious motion, producing incredible syncopation.
Nygel Witherspoon, the young cellist for the Dvořák Concerto, sits calmly on stage waiting for his entrance under a cloud of tight curls. He plays with confidence and agility, as undisturbed as a pool of still water. There is a tenderness to his sound. It is sweet and refreshing, everything that youth should be.
The next piece is the gospel choir. I am not familiar with gospel music, having instead the experience of Catholic mass, a more restrictive form of worship often held under giant panes of stained glass and the white curls of incense. Here We Are is introduced as a commemorative work by Dr. Henry Panion III, giving remembrance to the four little girls killed in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963. This will be followed by its partner, Send Me Hope, about reflecting, honoring and moving forward.
Here We Are is powerful music. As voices shout out “where are the girls?!” I feel the tragedy press against me. But this piece does not dwell in the anguish, it quickly moves to we are here—in a better place, watching over you, the love remains. The largeness of this is deeply moving.
As the vocals continue, the pure joy and talent and vitality of the choir rushes over us in waves. We don’t wait for the end of the concert to give a standing ovation, we are on our feet after nearly every piece, whooping and clapping, laughing and smiling, the tide of energy flowing back to the performers. We all go wild during More Abundantly.
Taiyon J. Coleman’s last spoken word of the night enchants and activates us. Her clear voice fills the hall, its deep timbre as solid and strong as oak. Her message is clear: that we have power to influence in small and meaningful ways, no matter how dark. Her words seep into us, make us somber in their truth and importance.
The concert closes the night with Total Praise, a simple melody with a simple message, sung with heartfelt devotion and abandonment by this beautiful Minneapolis gospel choir. “You are the source of my strength. You are the strength of my life. I lift my hands in total praise to you.”
Hope never sounded so good.