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Atlanta Sacred Chorale returns to Lancaster

By Nita Brown

Back by popular demand, the Atlanta Sacred Chorale (ASC) is returning to Lancaster.
The nationally known chorale will present its 2010-11 program, Awake the Dawn, at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at First United Methodist Church, 200 W. Gay St.
The concert is the 14th of the Vivian Major Robinson concert series, sponsored by the Lancaster County Council of the Arts. Concert admission is free, thanks to endowment funding.
The 40-plus members of the chamber choir, directed by Dr. Eric Nelson, are a mixture of professional and amateur musicians.

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The chorale slogan, “Where music touches spirit,” defines its goal: to share a spiritual worship experience with audiences.  “(Awake the Dawn) is music that celebrates the beauty of new beginnings, music of the coming of the light and possibilities of a new day,”  Nelson said.
Atlanta Sacred Chorale is audience-friendly.
Folks can meet Nelson and chorale members during intermission. The audience can follow the songs with lyrics printed in the program.
Selections/composers
Promoting fine arts isn’t the only goal of the Vivian Major Robinson concert series. The series also seeks to educate its audiences by adding to their knowledge and appreciation of music.
Selections in Awake at Dawn appeal to all ages and range from Renaissance to contemporary. The program also includes some new arrangements of traditional hymns and several spirituals.
Some of the composers might be lesser-known names, but their music and contributions to the arts are widely known and respected.
Here’s some interesting tidbits about a few composers whose work is part of Awake the Dawn:
• The late Jester Hairston (“In Dat Great Gittin’ Up Mornin”) was an black composer, songwriter, arranger, choral conductor and actor.
Born in rural North Carolina and the grandson of slaves, Hairston was a cast member of the “Amos ‘n’ Andy” radio show and a founding member of the Screen Actor’s Guild.
He studied music at Juilliard and his movie credits include “To Kill a Mockingbird” (1962) and “In the Heat of the Night” (1967). His television roles include Wildcat on “That’s My Momma” and Rolly Forbes on the NBC sitcom “Amen”
Hairston, who has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, is also a talented songwriter, having written the Christmas song “Mary’s Boy Child” and “Amen,” which he dubbed for the 1963 Academy Award winning film “Lilies of the Field,” starring Sidney Poitier. “Amen” was later recorded by a number of other artists.
• Reformation composer Thomas Tallis (“O Splendor of Eternal Light”) is considered the father of English cathedral music. He composed during the reigns of King Henry VIII, King Edward VI, Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth I. Tallis and collaborator William Byrd were granted a monopoly on multi-part music with exclusive publishing rights during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
• Harry T. Burleigh (“My Lord, What a Mornin’”) was a classically trained black composer, nearly unheard of in the 1890s. When Burleigh worked as an assistant to Antonin Dvorak, he introduced the Czech composer to spirituals. Dvorak incorporated these songs into his next symphony. Burleigh may not be a household name, but many would recognize Dvorak’s New World Symphony.
• William Billings (“Easter Anthem”) is regarded as the father of American choral music.
• Contemporary composer Paul Carey (“Morning Person”) is lead choral teacher and conductor of the North Carolina Governor’s School in Raleigh, N.C.
• Samuel Wesley (“Thou Wilt Keep Him in Perfect Peace”) was a grandson of Charles Wesley, leader of the Methodist movement and a well-known hymnist.
• Modern English composer Bob Chilcott (“The Same Sun Shine”) is well known for children’s choir compositions and is principal guest conductor of the BBC Singers.
In the last 25 years, ASC has gained a national reputation for vocal excellence.
Initially, its focus was a capella music, but their repertoire now includes accompanied works. They perform throughout the Southeast at several choral festivals in the Atlanta area, at Piccolo Spoleto in Charleston, with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and at numerous conventions and music conferences. Selections from their CDs have been featured on National Public Radio, WABE and other programs in the United States and Canada.
Nelson has been director of choral studies at Emory University since 1997. He also directs the Emory concert choir and university chorus and became became ASC director in 1999. A passionate teacher, Nelson emphasizes musical excellence through a blend of lyrics and melody.
Johannes Tromp, concert series coordinator, is enthusiastic about the group’s return.
Tromp said he is grateful for the support of the Lancaster church community and would like to see future concerts held in other area churches.
“We’re truly fortunate to be able to bring back this wonderful chorale to Lancaster,” Tromp said. “Their first performance (2008 at First Presbyterian Church) was very well received. Many in the audience expressed their enthusiasm by requesting the return of this superbly-gifted chorus of beautiful blended voices.”
For more information about the Chorale, or to purchase CDs online, visit the ASC website, http://www.atlantasacredchorale.org/index.php.
Want to go?
WHO: Atlanta Sacred Chorale
WHEN: 2:30 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: First United Methodist Church, 200 W. Gay St.
HOW MUCH: Free
DETAILS: (803) 285-7451.