Concert choir is to Carnegie Hall as rock band is to Madison Square Garden. Carnegie Hall sounds just right to the 30-plus members of Alcorn State University's internationally known concert choir. Directed by Dr. David Blackburn, the choir begins their next tour on March 15. They play Birmingham, Atlanta, Carnegie Hall and other locations in the Big Apple before they return home March 24.
The last time such a powerful spotlight shone on the choir, they performed at the presidential inauguration in January 2005. Now, some 15 months later, Eric Dale-Knapp, conductor-in-residence of MidAmerica Productions Inc., invited the group to the hallowed New York City stage.
On March 20, accompanied by the New England Symphony Orchestra, Alcorn presents Antonio Vivaldi's "Gloria." This piece features two (occasionally three) soloists and two movements, each with its own distinctive sound, voice and momentum. "Gloria" is not intended for the musically faint at heart.
Chosen from a larger group of fifty-six by an extensive selective process, the thirty-two college students making the trek to Carnegie Hall are responsible for funding their tour. Consequently, since October the group has worked at raising the $40,000 they need for the tour.
Blackburn explains that he "wanted to teach (the young people) that some things in life require personal investments." To this end, each participant paid $300 toward the funding the tour.
While their performance at Carnegie Hall highlights a classical baroque selection—a notable point in musical history—their comprehensive repertoire includes contemporary gospel music and Negro spirituals. Their vast melodic catalog and the fact that the students hail from all over Mississippi and the United States defines the choir from one of Mississippi's historically black universities. This diversity of sorts plays a part in making the music so beautiful. It can be shared and enjoyed by all no matter the venue.
In his invitation to the group to sing, Dale-Knapp stated: "Our purpose is to highlight the appearance of distinguished ensembles. It has been my experience that an appearance in Carnegie Hall represents excellence and enhances the ensemble's image in the eyes of current and potential singers, administration, and the community as a whole."
It stands to reason that if the choral program's image has been enhanced, so has the image of the state of Mississippi.
If your purses and pockets are too shallow to show the college students support by following them on tour, Dr. Blackburn will be presenting the choir on March 9 at 1 p.m. on campus of the university in Oakland Memorial Chapel. Donations can also be made by contacting the Alcorn State University Foundation Inc. at (601)877-6693.