By Stephanie R. Jones
JA Contributing Writer
The Mississippi Symphony Orchestra and Cade Chapel M.B. Church ventured into unchartered territory with a collaborative program held at the church on Sunday, Nov. 13 featuring members of the orchestra, the Cade Chapel Chorale, Tougaloo College Chamber Singers, and recording artists Teneia Sanders and 5th Child.
Symphony in the Community, conceived or organized by Cade Chapel’s Rev. Reginald Buckley and symphony conductor Crafton Beck, marked the first time the symphony traversed into one of the city’s Black sanctuaries for a performance in an African American church.
When the subject of a collaboration came up this past summer, Rev. Buckley and Crafton immediately realized they were of the same mind. “We wanted to make inroads into areas where you don’t see this type of gathering,” Buckley stated before the program. “We don’t really know what to expect but hopefully this is the first in a series of events to come.”
“The idea is to celebrate the human spirit through music, art, and faith,” he added.
Crafton echoed those sentiments. “We are both, in our own way, working toward the spirit, serving the community by enriching lives and raising the quality of life. We thought about what that would look like if we came together,” Crafton said. “It meant leaving our traditional home (Thalia Mara Hall in downtown Jackson) and coming to his home.” (The church is located on Ridgeway Street in Northwest Jackson.)
While the symphony’s outreach has taken it into schools and churches in Jackson and across the state, Crafton said it was the first visit to a Black church and Sunday’s program was a natural extension of that. “We need to be ready to create the unexpected,” he said.
That meant bringing together artists not traditionally included in a symphony performance, such as singer/songwriter Sanders and hip-hop artist 5th Child, both Jackson natives who attended Murrah High School. The Tougaloo Chamber and 5th Child performed a song titled “Breathe,” written by Sanders. It was only the third time in its history that the symphony has featured the work of a Black female composer.
“It was such an honor to have Tougaloo College chamber choir sing ‘Breathe.’ It’s a piece about the ongoing conversation we are having about racial inequality and police brutality,” Sanders said. “And the chamber singers understand that as young Black Americans. It was powerful to hear them sing it.”
Buckley said the choice of the two artists are exactly what is needed in creating bridges in the community, helping to open up new partnerships and bill appreciation for the unfamiliar.
As for Cade Chapel being the venue for the event, Sanders said, “To have my first show with the MSO at Cade Chapel was so dear to my heart as a little Black girl who grew up in that church. The church has been my musical foundation, so it’s not lost on me that that’s where the magic is in our community. We showcased that Sunday.”
The program included works by notable African American artists such Margaret Walker Alexander’s poem “Inflation Blues”, set to music by composer and pianist Randy Klein; Samuel L. Coleridge’s Danse Negre from African Suite, Op. 35; and Virginia Davis Marshall’s “He’s So Wonderful,” performed by the Tougaloo singers. The Cade Chapel Chorale performed “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” by Jill Scott and Sy Miller. “Glory,” by singers John Legend and Common, was performed by the Chorale, 5th Child, and the Cade Chapel Dance Ministry.
Crafton said he realized the symphony had not been serving 70 percent of the Jackson community in recent years. The only way to grow an audience in the Black community, he said, “is to give voice repertoire and Black experience in the community. It’s something we should and must do.”
Sanders, who performed her song “Move” from her album Black Empress, said she was excited to be a part of the production. “It’s especially great to see young people in attendance interacting and showing interest the way they are,” she said.
5th Child added that it was an opportunity to mix different styles, exposing youths to some of what they are used to combined with something new. In the end, “The message is what inspires us,” he stated.
Judging by the anticipation of the sizable audience before and reactions after the show, the message resonated.
“To bring the various artists from all over and to include the Tougaloo choir, it’s just wonderful,” Cade Chapel member Loretta Epps said before the program started.
Delores Bolden Stamps, a symphony board member, said, “This is the beginning of building bridges, creating understanding, and embracing all communities.”
Dr. Lucille Green, a church member, said, “I love the music. We need to have this more. People need to learn how to love all kinds of music.”
At the conclusion of the program, Epps declared: “Now, wasn’t that wonderful!”
Stephanie R. Jones can be reached at (601) 454-0372 or firstname.lastname@example.org.