Walking into Foellinger Great Hall at Krannert Center, it was clear twenty minutes before the concert even began that closing night of Twelfth Black Sacred Music Symposium was going to be anything but a standard choir concert. Set up in a non-traditional setting, two levels with multiple rows of chairs replaced the normal setting of choir risers, and a smattering of chairs along the front of the stage left me wondering just what was planned for the night.
It began only five minutes after 7:30 — and, after attending a multiple concerts that have started half an hour behind schedule, I consider five minutes late to be the equivalent of on time. The show opened with the Jupiter String Quartet accompanying Dr. Ollie Watts Davis, who sang four spirituals; Give Me Jesus, Ride Up in the Chariot, Deep River, and He’s Got the Whole World in His Hand. Each piece was gorgeous, alternating between the slower and deeper, like Give me Jesus and Deep River, and the lighter and faster, as heard in Ride Up in the Chariot and He’s Got the Whole World in His Hand. Dr. Watts’ voice, rich and smooth, brought the audience along with her in every piece she sang, keeping listeners captivated even after the last note. Dr. Watts sang beautifully; the only drawbacks I could possibly find were that she did not have a microphone during her performance and that her voice was occasionally drowned out by the accompanists. Also (and you may feel free to disagree with me here) she was not memorized, and I am of the belief that solo performers should always be memorized because turning pages during a piece is distracting and can appear slightly messy.
After Dr. Watts, Rochelle Sennet played Piano Sonata No. 2 “The Remnant” by James Lee III. It began strong and bold, immediately grabbing the attention of anyone who might have wandered. She played magnificently, making no mistakes that I could discern. Once Sennet finished her piece, the concert shifted to the UIUC Black Chorus and Friends, and, aside from a bumpy transition, the choir’s two pieces — Praise the Lord by Florence Price and My Soul’s Been Anchored in the Lord by Moses Hogan — were certainly worthy of the packed auditorium. Not one person had music with them, and their sound was always balanced and full. My Soul’s Been Anchored in the Lord was performed exactly as it should be: with energy, excitement, and an intense drive carried by the sopranos, especially at the end. Praise the Lord was indeed worthy of praise; each section was balanced, and, while not as moving as My Soul, it solidly began the choir’s performance and set a good note for what was to come following intermission.
If there is one word I could choose to describe the second half of the concert, it would be Gospel. On stage were the Black Chorus, four soloists, and a small band consisting of a pianist/organist, bass player, and drummer, all performing A Celebration Medley by Andrae Crouch. Each piece was executed with a level of energy and pure enjoyment normally reserved for One Republic concerts, all of which electrified the audience. At multiple points throughout the performance everyone in the audience was encouraged to stand and sing and clap along with the choir — an invitation that was not wasted. I loved the passion exhibited by every soloist and the spirit with which every chorus member sang. In fact, I quickly began to feel as if I had switched from attending a concert to attending church… something that is wonderful for Sundays, but (in my opinion) should be left at home for University concerts.
Overall I found the concert to be a great success, interrupted by only minor details that could be easily overlooked. The UIUC Black Chorus gave a night of music well worth remembering and coming back for, so mark your calendars for this coming April 11th, the night of their Spring Concert. Be thankful, all you undergraduates: now you have a built-in event for you and your mom during Mother’s Weekend.