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Gonzaga University choirs celebrate Black History Month

UPDATED: Thu., Feb. 25, 2021

In honor of Black History Month, Gonzaga University choirs will present a concert celebrating the work of Black American composers livestreamed from the Myrtle Woldson Performing Arts Center. “Can You See?” will begin streaming at 7 p.m. Saturday.

The Concert Choir and the Discantus Treble Chorus will perform historical pieces by R. Nathaniel Dett, Florence Price, Undine Smith Moore and newer works from living Black composers Adolphus Hailstork, Mark Miller, Zanaida Robles and Joel Thompson.

The program includes a variety of musical styles featuring traditional African American spirituals, lyrics from protest signs such as “Love Is Love, Black Lives Matter,” text from Black post-Civil War poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, words from Amadou Diallo’s last voicemail to his mother before being shot by NYC police and 13th century sacred Latin text.

The first two pieces to be programmed, Gonzaga director of choirs Timothy Westerhaus explained, were “Can You See?” by L.A.-based composer Robles and “Walk Through the Streets of the City” by the late composer Moore, one of Westerhaus’ personal heroines.

Both pieces call to mind the continuing engagement with racial equity in Spokane and in the country at large, he said.

“The text of ‘Can You See?’ comes directly from protest signs and ask-the-audience open questions about issues facing not only our nation, but our community here: Can you see that ‘Black Lives Matter?’ that ‘Love Is Love?’ that ‘No Human Is Illegal?’ ” Westerhaus said.

Another consideration Westerhaus kept in mind while programming was the gender diversity of the selected composers. About half of the composers featured in the program are women.

“As a conductor, I believe it is important to program concerts that practice gender equity, as well,” he said. “The classical music field has been far too dominated by male, binary composers,” he said. “While that is not the focus, it is an underlying principle in our programming in Gonzaga University Choirs.”

Various students and faculty members from GU’s Colleagues of Color Affinity Group will share poetry intermittently throughout the program. The poetry readers will include Carmen dela Cruz, Jacquelyn Renee Lee, Jessica Maucione, Inga N. Laurent, Chad Little, Camesha Little and Phillip Tyler.

“I hope (the audience is) inspired by the beauty in the midst of this pandemic, energized by the discovery of choral music and poetry that is new to them,” Westerhaus said.

To register for the event, visit gonzaga.edu. For more information, email music@gonzaga.edu.

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