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Review of “America Singing”

    “Out of chaos comes something great,” stated Charles Reid, Associate Professor of Voice at Andrews University and a tenor soloist performing in “America Singing: Grit. Glory.,” as he introduced the concert’s theme. Sunday night’s performance stood as a tribute to the collective American spirit, drawing upon voices from diverse backgrounds including New York poet Langston Hughes, Texan poet Robert Lee Brothers, and some African-American spirituals.

In addition to Reid, the program also featured Kenneth Logan, Professor of Music at Andrews University, not only performing as a pianist but also contributing to the set list as a composer. Logan composed the accompaniment for Siegfried Sassoon’s poem, Secret Music, and set three of George Herbert’s poems to music as a song cycle. During the concert’s preamble, he offered a glimpse at his creative process: he finds inspiration from a pasture in the American West where he feels a strong spiritual connection.

A lengthy song cycle in the first half of the program also highlighted violist Rachel Goff, faculty at the Music Institute of Chicago and member of the South Bend Symphony Orchestra.

As foreshadowed by the title, the musical selection split in two categories of overarching emotion, the first being of course “Grit,” and the second “Glory.” Beginning on an almost startlingly cheery note, Langston Hughes’ poem Harlem Night Song scored by Ricky Ian Gordon took center stage for the prologue. But as the program moved into the “Grit” section, Reid’s voice swept across the audience mournfully, bringing an immediate shift to somber reflection during “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child”. A collection of Robert Lee Brothers’ poems made up a large portion of the first half of the program. We hear the voice of this Texan rancher as he describes smaller fragments of life: financial uncertainty, young love, and mourning for a death. Reid’s personal connection to this song cycle (his father composed the score) added to his visible enthusiasm and to his accompaniments’ interaction with the music, which made the music feel less distanced and much more participatory.

Moving on to the second half of the performance, the theme shifts to “Glory.” If there was any question regarding Reid’s opening statement, it is clear through the lyrics of these pieces that glory, something great, is to be found in connection with a personal God. Robert Lowry’s “At the River,” calls the listener to come out of the chaos and uncertainty of this world to “gather by the river, // … // flowing by the throne of God.” While the “Grit” segment of the performance featured contrasting voices and flew by quickly, the “Glorysegment seemed to be lyrically homogenous. Each of the songs in “Glory” pointed overtly to God as the answer, leaving the audience without any lingering uncertainty to ponder. The entirety of the performance, set on the anniversary of such a great tragedy in our recent history, was a reminder that as a nation we find hope in our darkest times, not in our own strength but in the glory of God.

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