A performance in Floradale Saturday offers up a change of pace for the Menno Singers … and those in the audience, who’ll be invited to sing along at points.
With “Lift Every Voice and Sing – Songs of Longing and Home,” the choral group shifts from the likes to Mozart and Bach to the spirituals of the U.S. South.
The concert, a fundraiser for MennoHomes, takes its inspiration from the significant African American hymn or anthem of the same name. The hymn – arranged for this concert by trumpet player Randy Brown – was written by John Rosamund Johnson in 1921 to express the longings and deep desires of a people for liberty, justice and a true home.
“This is going to be a lot of fun. The focus is on black gospel music and spirituals,” said Mark Diller Harder, co-president of Menno Singers and the guest conductor for today’s concert at Floradale Mennonite Church. “It’s something lighter, more fun for a broader audience.”
Rather than the classics, most of the music for this concert comes out of the experience of blacks in the U.S. There are traditional and contemporary spirituals, black gospel, hymns and songs that come from the African tradition.
The composers, however, come from many traditions, Diller Harder explained. On the set list are some of the earliest spirituals written for the broader choral scene, including “Soon-ah will be done” (1934) by African American composer William Dawson, “My God is a Rock”(1963) by Anglo-American arrangers Alice Parker and Robert Shaw and three spirituals from “A Child of our Time” (1941) written by English composer Michael Tippett.
The concert will feature the Menno Singers’ 45-voice choir, both a cappella and with a band that includes Charlene Nafziger (piano), Linden Gossen (percussion) and Randy Brown (trumpet). They will be joined at points by tenor Brandon Leis.
In addition to taking in the sounds, audience members should be prepared to be in good voice, as their will be a participatory portion to the show.
“It’s a concert, and it’s also a hymn sing,” said Diller Harder. “There’ll be songs that they know or songs they can pick up easily.”
All proceeds from the concert will go to MennoHomes, thanks to sponsors who have picked up all costs, he added. Along with ticket sales, the group will be collecting donations.
MennoHomes started in 2001 as a part of the Mennonite Central Committee. The organization’s goal for its 10-year anniversary is to have built 100 affordable rental units for low-income families, seniors, and people with disabilities by the end of this year. Projects number 99 and 100 are slated to be built in Elmira. Two sizeable homes will be built to accommodate large families – “It can be difficult for families with eight or nine children or more to find housing.”
MennoHomes has secured a lot on Centre Street, near Church Street, and expects to begin construction this summer. Similar to its build in Wellesley in 2009, the organization will be looking for church and community groups to get involved. The home building class at Elmira District Secondary School has already signed on to help with the project.
The Menno Singers’ “Lift Every Voice and Sing – Songs of Longing and Home” concert takes to the stage at Floradale Mennonite Church tonight (May 14) at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $20 ($5 children/students). The church is located at 22 Florapine Rd.