The Art School’s Round of ‘Spirituals’

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On the evening of Saturday March 6, the Claire Trevor School of Arts hosted an event for the Vocal Arts department’s ongoing Art Song and Artistry Series, which is meant to showcase the talents of the department for the public to enjoy.

The event, entitled “An Evening of Spirituals,” consisted of a 16-song set of spirituals performed individually by 15 different Vocal Arts undergraduate students — each student was paired by director Darryl Taylor to the song he felt would best fit their vocal talents.

The genre of spirituals found their origins in the days of slavery in the United States. They are religious songs created by enslaved African people primarily as an expression of Christian faith and were originally sung unaccompanied, although they are best known today in the form of choral arrangements.

At “An Evening of Spirituals,” the performances hearkened back to this, and the students’ individual solos were accompanied only by pianos, helmed by Junko Nojima and Adela Kwan.

There was only two times where the students sang as a choir, the first was very briefly in the first song, Hall Johnson’s “Oh, Rise an’ Shine,” as the students filed out from backstage to their seats. From then, baritone Jaime Sanderson took over the remainder of the song.

All of the performances were stripped down to the barest essentials, allowing the students’ voices to shine boldly on their own. Going along with the religious theme of the night, each student was dressed in ‘church attire,’ with the girls in knee-dresses and shawls and the boys in suits and shining leather shoes.

Standouts of the night included baritone Elias Berezin’s rendition of Harry T. Burleigh’s “De Blin’ Man Stood on de Road an’ Cried,” a richly moving spiritual about a blind man crying for the Lord to deliver him from his ailments.

Mezzo-soprano Angelica Rowell’s rendition of Hall Johnson’s “Witness” was also another crowd-pleaser. A faster-paced spiritual that alluded to Biblical figures like Nicodemus and Samson, the other singers sitting in their seats joined in by raising their hands in ‘witness,’ adding a fun bit of flair to Rowell’s performance.

Tenor Kibsaim Escarcega did a beautiful rendition of Moses Hogan’s “Give Me Jesus,” a soulful plead for Christ’s presence at all times, even at death.

Showcases like “An Evening of Spirituals” are not only a display of the talent housed at the Claire Trevor, but a testament to the department’s dedication and hard work.

While the night was dedicated entirely to spirituals, the religious overtones were hardly the main focus of the night. Rather, the songs served as the perfect vehicle in which the vocals arts students could imbibe passion, reverence and emotion along with their outstanding talent.