American Composers Orchestra & the Apollo Theater Co-Present The Gathering: A Collective Sonic Ring

American Composers Orchestra & the Apollo Theater Co-Present The Gathering: A Collective Sonic Ring Shout

Co-curated with National Black Theatre Creative Concept and Direction by Jonathan McCrory Conducted by Chelsea Tipton II | Choirmaster Gregory Hopkins

Joel Thompson’s Seven Last Words of the Unarmed (New York Premiere) Jason Michael Webb’s I Am Loved (and Other Healing Affirmations) (World Premiere) Carlos Simon’s Amen! for orchestra (New York Premiere) Nona Hendryx’s Grace, Heaven and Benediction (We Will Rise) and Toshi Reagon’s My Name, A Reflection of Home in orchestral premieres (World Premieres) Plus Sanctum by Courtney Bryan and Say Her Name sung by Abby Dobson

Video projections by Katherine Freer and Narration by Mahogany L. Browne

Saturday, May 7, 2022 at 8pm | Apollo Mainstage | 253 W 125th St. | NYC Tickets & Information: www.americancomposers.org/events/the-gathering

American Composers Orchestra (ACO) continues its 2021-2022 season, under the leadership of Artistic Director Derek Bermel and President Melissa Ngan, with The Gathering: A Collective Sonic Ring Shout co-presented by ACO and the Apollo Theater and co-curated with National Black Theatre in partnership with Gateways Music Festival and Harlem Chamber Players, on Saturday, May 7, 2022 at 8pm at the Apollo. The Gathering is a sonic quest rooted in the African and African American ritual of the Ring Shout, directed by National Black Theatre’s Executive Artistic Director Jonathan McCrory and conducted by Chelsea Tipton II with choirmaster Gregory Hopkins. The concert includes music by Courtney Bryan, Abby Dobson, Nona Hendryx, Toshi Reagon, Carlos Simon, Joel Thompson, and Jason Michael Webb. Dobson, Hendryx, and Reagon will also perform.

The Gathering is inspired by the ancestral tradition of the Ring Shout, a transcendent gathering to celebrate spiritual expression, resilience, and healing, with a goal to honor the lives lost and uplift the lives we continue to lead in the ongoing plight against racism, inequality, and the pandemic over the last two years. The centerpiece of the evening is the New York premiere of Seven Last Words of the Unarmed by Joel Thompson, which sets the final words of seven Black men – Kenneth Chamberlain, Trayvon Martin, Amadou Diallo, Michael Brown, Oscar Grant III, John Crawford, and Eric Garner – killed by police or authority figures. Thompson describes the piece as, “a meditation on the lives of these Black men and an effort to focus on their humanity, which is often eradicated in the media to justify their deaths.” Singer Abby Dobson will perform her own work, Say Her Name, which is inspired by the #SayHerName campaign of The African American Policy Forum and the Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy, lifting up Black women and girls victimized by police. The performance will also feature the New York premiere of the orchestral version of 2021 Sphinx Medal of Excellence recipient Carlos Simon’s Amen!, honoring the composer’s family’s four-generation affiliation with the Pentecostal church, and includes 2020 United States Artist Fellow Courtney Bryan’s Sanctum, which draws from recorded sermons and includes the voice of Marlene Pinnock, who was beaten by a police officer in California, as well as the voices of activists in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014. These works are in conversation with a newly commissioned piece I Am Loved (and Other Healing Affirmations) by Tony Award winner Jason Michael Webb, and world premiere orchestrations of Grace, Heaven and Benediction by Grammy-nominated musician, songwriter, and actress Nona Hendryx and My Name, A Reflection of Home by Herb Alpert Award in the Arts winner Toshi Reagon, created to honor the present need for a collective space of remembrance. In recognition of the ring shout traditions, the audience is encouraged to wear white.

ACO Artistic Director Derek Bermel says, “More than four years ago ACO began planning with the Apollo Theater to present the New York premiere of Joel Thompson's Seven Last Words of the Unarmed. This powerful multi-movement composition confronts us with the starkest truths of human nature; I hope that each work on the program helps to further illuminate the challenges that Seven Last Words lays before us, both as individuals and as a community. With this project we embark on a partnership with the Gateways Festival, the Harlem Chamber Players, and the National Black Theatre, organizations that have helped bring equity and inclusion in artmaking to the fore; we are so proud to share the stage with them.”

The Gathering is anchored by a 70-member orchestra and a 60-voice choir composed of singers, professional and amateur, from multiple African American churches and choral ensembles in New York including Abyssinian Baptist Church Choir, Broadway Inspirational Voices, Convent Avenue Baptist Church Choir, and Sing Harlem Choir. The program also features interstitial video projections by Katherine Freer and Root Chakras written and spoken by Mahogany L. Browne. In addition to the Ring Shout, the narrative focuses on a calling of names – lifting up the names of those who have lost their lives, as well as of those who have fought for equitable shared space.

The Gathering collaboration has included an array of powerful community engagement activities at the Apollo leading up to this concert, with the intent of creating space for hope, healing, and the collective exhale. Two events are upcoming:

  • On Sunday, April 24, the Apollo, ACO, and the National Black Theatre present Resistance and Healing: Engaging The Ring Shout. First practiced by enslaved Africans in the Caribbean and in the United States, a Shout (or Ring Shout) is an ecstatic, transcendent religious ritual in which worshipers move in a circle while stomping, shuffling, and clapping to open a space to collectively grieve, awaken joy as a source of liberation, and find love as a form of resistance. A panel of experts, thought leaders, and the creative team for The Gathering explore the historic origins and significance of the Ring Shout, and will then lead audiences through a communal ring shout.

  • On Thursday, May 5, Live Wire: The Social Justice Playlist will discuss how Black artists have been utilizing their musical abilities to bring Black communities together for decades in a myriad of ways. The Apollo will explore the timeline of political performance and discuss Black artists and their musical contributions beginning in the 19th century to the present day. As the conversation focuses on our current moment, a panel will consider what these performances and performers reveal about the systems within which Black entertainment must exist.

Learn more about the artists and hear their music: www.americancomposers.org/events/the-gathering

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