Digital live performance honors civil rights activists

Pictures of Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights activists graced the screen while musicians played powerful melodies. Messages of joy, resilience and progress were expressed in the pictures and videos of the annual MLK festival concert.

Starting January 25th, Ithaca College hosted the annual campus-wide celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. with virtual workshops, discussions and artistic performances on everything to do with racial justice and black history. January 29th the CThe MLK Celebration Concert by ollege premiered on Youtube as the last event of MLK week. In the past the concert had been held in Person but this year it accepted on different format to ensure the health and safety of participants during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Baruch Whitehead, associate professor in the Department of Music Education and director of the concert, said instead of postponing the concert, he adjusted the structure. Whitehead worked with producer Matthew Brockman ’18 to create the virtual concert. The video compiled performances from past MLK Celebration Concerts, new virtual performances, images and videos depicting moments in the struggle for racial justice.

“We’re continuing the tradition,” said Whitehead. “The fact that we got together with some old things and some new things, I think that will be really interesting for the audience.”

The MLK Celebration Concert and everyone else virtual events from MLK week are archived online as a tool for campus community members to use in ongoing conversations about injustice and anti-racism.

The concert included performances from past MLK Celebration Concerts with the wind ensemble, choir, wind orchestra, soloists Mariah Lyttle ’19 and senior Asila Folds and guest soloist Samantha McElhaney John.

The concert also highlighted faculty members such as Sidney Outlaw, Assistant Professor in the Department of Music Performance, and Steven Banks, Assistant Professor in the Department of Music Performance. Banks played an original composition called “As I Am,” which he believes reflects the current nature of our country.

“I think this piece came at a really transition point in my life,” said Banks. “It was sort of the end of my college years when I entered my professional life, so like most people, I was trying to figure something out,” said Banks. “I think in many ways, our country, our school, the world is really trying to figure things out right now.”

In addition, the concert featured previous appearances from the Dorothy Cotton Jubilee Singers. The Dorothy Cotton Jubilee Singers are Directed by Whitehead and Aim uphold the tradition of African performance– –American sPirituals. Said Whitehead This group is named in honor of Dorothy Cotton, a civil rights activist who worked closely with King and lived in Ithaca. He said He wanted a space for more diverse music, which is often neglected in music education.

“I felt like the negro sPirituals didn’t have their rightful place in relation to a very Eurocentric curriculum, so I settled on a group that would do negro only sPirituals and other African– –American sacred music, ”said Whitehead. “For me it was like paying homage to my grandmother and also to Dorothy’s legacy because I wanted to use music just as they did music to break racial lines. “

At a performance of the 2020 MLK Festival Concert in this year’s video, the Dorothy Cotton Jubilee Singers worked with the college choir to sing “We Shall Overcome” with Folds, a college soloist.

Folds said that during this performance she tried to express the perseverance and strength of the black community.

“As I sang, I thought about how much we have already overcome and how much more we have to do,” said Folds. “I think I knocked in my personal experience, but also just to show what the entire Black Community goes through every day. “

In addition to the recordings of performances before the pandemic, two virtual performances were shown at the end of the concert, during which the students’ self-recorded videos were edited together. The first was a video of “Amazing Grace” arranged by Oliver Scott ’19 and performed by students from the School of Music, which originally premiered on YouTube on December 15th. The second was “Glory” arranged by Whitehead and Michael White ‘. 19, originally from the film Selma. The “Glory” video was produced specifically for the MLK Celebration Concert over the winter break and performed by the Dorothy Cotton Jubilee Singers and groups from the College of Music’s School of Music with Maria Ellis-Jordan from the Dorothy Cotton Jubilee Singers and Senior Matthew Suffern.

Sophomore Mahum Qureshi said She played viola during “Glory” at both last year’s and this year’s MLK Celebration Concerts. She said that while the piece is in a different format, it is still inspiring.

“There’s just so much power in this piece,” said Qureshi. “It moves me every time I play it with people, only the strength and the strength. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like this song or doesn’t feel something when they hear or play it. “

Folds said they believe the annual MLK celebration C.oncert offers the opportunity to amplify the voices of communities that are often suppressed.

“I think the take away I wanted from the concert was just to celebrate black voices,” said Folds. “I have the feeling that it is so easy for us, especially in predominantly white areas, to get lost and not be celebrated. That’s why I thought it was really cool.”

Dani Novak, emeritus associate professor in the department of math, attended the concert and said He preferred the virtual format to the personal concerts previously held.

“I don’t usually go to concerts, but this is where I can pause, watch over and over, get information about details on the internet, go back to enjoy the show, etc.,” Novak said. “It’s just another way of expressing the human mind, and it works for me. “

Banks said he believes music plays a role in the pursuit of civil rights because it provides opportunities for better understanding.

“When we talk about music, when we all raise our voices, we naturally value people’s humanity,” said Banks. “And the more we humans can understand about a person– –to– –on a human level, we are more likely to value each other’s lives equally. And I think that’s one of the reasons why music can be so linked to all these aspects of civil rights. Sometimes it’s not a political thing, But it’s all about making sure nobody is seen as less than human.

Whitehead hopes attendees and attendees left the virtual concert with a sense of hope and a desire to continue King’s legacy.

“Hopefully they will take the concert away from a renewed focus on engagement and the ability to really talk to one another, break bridges and tear down walls to bring people together,” said Whitehead. “We shouldn’t let this be just a one– –Daily event that we strive for all our lives, every day of the week. “

The college will continue to celebrate black heritage with virtual events throughout Black History Month. More than just a month of historyOn February 11th, the Office of Student Engagement will give a presentation discussing the history of Black History Month. Alisha Lola Jones, a gospel musicologist, becomes one lecture titled “Black musical masculinity and the art of ardent worshipFebruary 12th.

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