2017-05-04 / News

Singers will showcase stars and stripes


Members of the small ensemble, led by director B.J. Whitehouse strumming guitar, rehearse for “Songs Americans Sing” Monday at Central Baptist Church. 
PHOTO BY ANDREA VON HOHENLEITEN Members of the small ensemble, led by director B.J. Whitehouse strumming guitar, rehearse for “Songs Americans Sing” Monday at Central Baptist Church. PHOTO BY ANDREA VON HOHENLEITEN Audiences will have two opportunities this weekend to sing the songs Americans sing.

The Jamestown Community Chorus is performing its spring production with a patriotic twist. The opening show is scheduled for 4 p.m. Saturday with an encore at 3 p.m. the following day. According to director B.J. Whitehouse, “Songs Americans Sing” showcases the music that has been inextricably woven into the rich and dynamic fabric of the nation.

“Every race, nationality, faith and political movement has left a strong, vibrant stamp on the American musical fabric,” Whitehouse said in his director’s note. “Well before Europeans landed in the New World, an old world of music existed throughout indigenous cultures. With every new arrival, a bit of music was added to the American palette.”

Whitehouse, who has led the chorus for nearly 30 years, chose a repertoire that ranges from William Billings, widely considered American’s first choral composer to Bob Dylan, whose songwriting still influences music today. That eclectic mix of patriotism includes “Chester,” the Billings hymn that is considered the country’s firs song of protest, through “Blowin in the Wind,” the Dylan chart-topper that became the anthem for the Civil Right Movement during the 1960s.

America always has been a melting pot, and the concerts will depict that. “Now I Walk in Beauty,” a Navajo prayer song, and “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which was dubbed “The Negro National Anthem” in 1919 by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, are scheduled to be performed. There also will be a medley of spirituals, including text from the Emancipation Proclamation, the executive order signed in 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln that changed the federal legal status of 3 million Southern slaves.

“African-American music can in no way be underestimated in the evolution of the American sound,” Whitehouse said.

Other classics in the program include “Give me Your Tired, Your Poor,” “You’re a Grand Old Flag” and “Hallelujah,” a folk tune written by Leonard Cohen.

For amateur singers in the audience, lyrics will be provided for three songs during the sing-along. They are “This Land is Your Land,” “America, the Beautiful” and “Turn, Turn, Turn,” the song written by social activist Pete Seeger. The song, which highlights lyrics from the biblical Book of Ecclesiastes, garnered international fame when The Byrds covered it in 1965. That Billboard chart-topper, however, won’t be the only selection from the Decade of Discontent.

“Being of a certain age, members of our small ensemble harken back to an era of great musical fertility,” Whitehouse said about the 1960s.

Pianist Dawn Chung, who replaced 27-year vet Janet Grant at the Christmas concert, will accompany the 12 sopranos, 14 altos, eight tenors and nine basses. Finally, the chorus will present its annual scholarship to Erica Smith. The graduating senior at North Kingstown plays clarinet in the school band In the fall, Smith will attend the Eastman School of Music in New York as a performance major.

Admission is $15, but senior citizens and children receive a $3 discount. Tickets can be purchased in advance at Jamestown Hardware, Baker’s Pharmacy and The Secret Garden, as well as being available at the door.

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