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Fisk Jubilee Singers to share message, music

staff report • Mar 22, 2013 at 6:53 AM

JOHNSON CITY — Since 1871, the Fisk Jubilee Singers have been on a mission to share the art form of Negro spirituals, making music for kings, queens and presidents as well as the common folk around the globe. But equally as important as the music is the message, says Dr. Paul T. Kwami, director of the a cappella group.

“The message is that there are beautiful things in the world, and music is one of the sources of this beauty,” says Kwami, a native of Ghana who was a Fisk Jubilee singer himself in the 1980s. “As we study and perform music, we discover this beauty and share it with others. This may take the form of encouragement, expression of love, expression of our faith in God and the knowledge of our responsibility in sharing our gifts with other people for the good of the world. Music gives us more than just entertainment.”

The Fisk Jubilee Singers will share this traditional music and its messages of hope and love at East Tennessee State University at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, March 26, in the D.P. Culp University Center’s Martha Street Culp Auditorium.

The 16-member ensemble will be joined by the David Crockett High School Madrigal Singers on four pieces, and under the direction of DCHS Choral Director Kelly Sams, the high school chorus will perform four pieces from the Madrigals’ repertoire. To help prepare the 20 madrigal singers and teach them this special style of singing, Kwami has made three visits to Crockett in the last three months.

The program for the March 26 performance will include pieces by well-known African-American arrangers, such as Moses Hogan, Undine S. Moore, Jester Hairston, John W. Work III and William Dawson, as well as one of Kwami’s own arrangements. Spirituals will include “Soon-Ah Will Be Done,” “Ain A That Good News,” “Poor Man Laz-rus,” and “The Battle of Jericho.”

Stressing the importance of such music in global and arts culture is also part of the focus of Kwami’s educational gift to these area students, and critical to that education is “understanding,” he says.

“One thing I am very particular about is having an understanding of the music that is being performed, that is, the message of the song that is being performed,” Kwami says. “Without an understanding, the performer cannot effectively share the message. When my students sing with understanding, it helps the emotion, and emotion is a very important part of music when it is performed and then it affects the audience.

“Once they understand what we are singing about, it speaks to them, and therefore they understand it and have fun with it. I know that some people may not agree with me, but I have come to realize that Negro spirituals today can be used to achieve some beautiful things, and if you ask my students, they will tell you it is true. I know the benefit of understanding what the songs mean today.”

Tickets are $5 for all area students with valid student ID, $15 for general admission and $10 for seniors 60 and older. Group discounts are available for general admission and senior tickets. Financial support for the concert and educational activities is provided by the Tennessee Arts Commission.

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