Concert Prompted By Campus Protests
The University Singers will present "Tradition and Influence: The African-American Musical Legacy," March 19 at 7:30 p.m. at the First Baptist Church in Columbia. The group is conducted by R. Paul Crabb, director of choral activities at the School of Music, and features accompanist Jenna Braaksma. Crabb says the concert was prepared to inform and educate audiences about the influence of African-American musicians and poets following the events on the MU campus last fall.
Crabb says following the events that transpired on the MU campus last fall, he and his students spent two class periods talking to each other and sharing their experiences. Two of his students were directly involved with the student protests.
“I’ve been telling people that this has been such a rich opportunity, because these conversations would not have taken place otherwise,” Crabb says. “The conversations don’t have to be hateful—they can be questioning, like, ‘What are we doing?’ I want to tell people we support the idea of dialogue.”
Tired of the backlash against the students and the university, Crabb says he revamped his program and geared it toward trying to break down stereotypes.
“Whereas I usually try to choose a repertoire that includes a variety of styles and historical periods, I changed my approach to help all of us become more informed and educated about the influence of African-American musicians and poets, many of whom have not been properly recognized and are not frequently studied or performed in our discipline,” Crabb says.
The set will open with a composition by Nathaniel Dett, the first African-American to graduate with a five-year degree in 1908 from what is now Oberlin Conservatory. Crabb says Dett wrote in a western European style and taught at Lincoln University in Jefferson City for a short time. The University Singers will perform another set of pieces from popular current Irish composer Tarik O’Regan, who uses “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” as the basis of a minimalist composition that retains the pain and suffering intended by the composer, Wallace Willis. Crabb’s research uncovered the fact that Willis was a slave of the Native American Choctaw Nation.
The close of the concert will feature the new composition “Anthem” by teaching assistant Ernest Harrison, which captures his thoughts and experiences during that momentous week last November. Crabb says the composition combines some of the hateful speech of last fall with “We Shall Overcome” and “Old Missouri.”
“It’s a different type of ending—kind of an emotional, immediate, personal ending, and I’ve had a few sleepless nights wondering about the reaction to this ending,” Crabb says. “Even some of the students have trouble singing the piece.”
Tickets are $5 and are available at the Missouri Theatre Box Office, 203 S. 9th Street. The concert is free for MU students with a student ID.