MVSU Choir, ‘Seven Last Words’ mark spring Cade Chapel matinee  

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email

JANS – Joel Thompson’s Seven Last Words of the Unarmed is a searing reach into the human heart and a powerful cry for social justice. 

The Atlanta-based composer’s choral work is the centerpiece for MSO’s “Symphony in the Community” spring concert, 3 p.m. Sunday, April 21, at Cade Chapel M.B. Church in Jackson. Giving it voice is the 55-member-strong Mississippi Valley State University Choir, led by MVSU Director of Choral Activities Brandon Cash. 

Thompson, troubled by killings of unarmed Black men by authority figures and inspired by Iranian-American artist Shirin Barghi’s #lastwords project, used the final words and correspondence of seven victims in this powerful multi-movement choral work. Thompson selected the statements that most easily aligned with the structure of Haydn’s Seven Last Words of Christ, with different music characterizing each of the seven movements, ranging from deeply poignant (Amadou Diallo’s “Mom, I’m Going to College”) to urgent and charged (Michael Brown’s “I don’t have a gun. Stop shooting”). 

Premiered in 2015 by the University of Michigan Men’s Glee Club, the critically acclaimed Seven Last Words of the Unarmed spurred conversation and inspiration, an award-winning documentary, and a website resource for students, activists, and performers. 

The choral composition was originally scored for an all-male chorus, but the recent availability of an SATB version (for soprano, alto, tenor, bass) opened it up to choruses of women’s and men’s voices. MVSU is among the first historically Black colleges and universities to perform the work. 

Rehearsals began in late February. Given the painful nature of this topic, “It’s very emotionally wringing, especially with my men,” Cash said, and he is glad to have women singers involved as well. “I think having the heritage of HBCUs and having men and women in the ensemble, and using this platform of singing to promote this work can provide the support, and still shed light on issues of social justice. 

“The majority of my students are Black and Brown students, and they come from all walks of life. Singing is one of the things that brings us together as a unit and a whole.” 

Discussions help provide further support, promote understanding, assess how the music affects the students emotionally, and explore ways to channel those emotions into the text they’re performing. 

Cash hopes audiences are moved by this work, which aims to evoke empathy and awareness, humanize the men who were killed, and use music’s power to heal. “I really want the audience to be reflective of what you have, what you’re saying,” Cash said, “and try to inspire, as a collective, about how to rectify concerns we have in our state and our district… and hope we can all collectively work on the social change and be aware of it. 

“You see stuff on the news, and after a couple of weeks you see something else on the news. These things are still happening,” Cash said. “You want to pay tribute to the victims who were hurt, and also the families. 

“Music is a great way to connect,” he said. “My hope is that people are open.” Conversations can be tough, but needed, and sometimes the need to listen is paramount. 

“We all have walls that we put up. These are great conversations and this is a great way to lead us into that segue of how we can be a collective, moving forward.” 

An “extraordinary” work that quickly became a sensation in this country, “It’s a piece that needs to be done,” said MSO Conductor and Music Director Crafton Beck. “When it was performed in communities, that’s all people talked about afterward…. People took the piece, and made it a conversation point, and there are actual support groups that were created in communities around the words, and around the piece and around the idea of the piece, to help communities deal with police violence in their communities.” 

Terrance Hayes’ poem “American Sonnet for the New Year,” previously heard at last season’s Bravo II concert, is also on the program. Beck re-orchestrated it for the smaller orchestra and choir at Cade Chapel. “We’re going to perform that piece now, really as I originally intended it to be, for a very intimate space with choir surrounding the audience, speaking words with the poetry being read and then the orchestra playing.” 

A solo spotlight for pianist Tyler Kemp and the Mississippi Symphony Woodwind Quintet shine in Valerie Coleman’s Umoja. Two selections featuring the MVSU and Cade Chapel choir wrap up the matinee. Concert admission is contribute-what-you-can.

The MSO matinee series, now in their second year, has been a successful proving ground for MSO’s expansion into more community spaces and more collaborative programming. “What we’ve ended up doing, was letting the church, and the groups that we perform with, and the artists who read poetry there, bring the work to us,” Beck said. 

“We – me personally as an artist, the orchestra as an arts organization – we are growing and learning by discovering things with our audience. 

“It’s so much more than I ever thought it would be,” Beck said, with repertoire created and discovered in that space, now merging into other MSO offerings.

For more information, visit

Republish This Story

Copy and Paste the below text.

MVSU Choir, ‘Seven Last Words’ mark spring Cade Chapel matinee  

By Jackson Advocate News Service
March 25, 2024