The Mississippi Chorus performs “Music Changes Everything,” a concert featuring all Mississippi composers, on April 14 at Pearl High School. Photo courtesy Mississippi Chrous
When the Mississippi Chorus began looking ahead to the launch of its 30th season this fall, Artistic Director Mark Nabholz says that the board faced an important question: How should they kick off such a milestone year?
"As the board thought through that and discussed it, one of the things that this organization has enjoyed doing from time to time is commissioning new music and performing it for the first time," he says. "So out of that came the commission for Luigi Zaninelli at (the University of Southern Mississippi) to write a piece for us."
Working with one Mississippi composer then prompted another question, he says: "What else is out there?" It was that curiosity that paved the way for the Mississippi Chorus' latest concert, "Music Changes Everything," which features only composers from the Magnolia State.
"There is such a wealth of great music written by Mississippi composers," he says. "This program actually features six Mississippi composers' music, and that was tough because there are a lot more than six."
In addition to Zaninelli's new piece, the concert will include music from former Mississippi College professor James Sclater, former Delta State University professor Richard Waters, Millsaps College alumnus Samuel Jones, James Mulholland and William Grant Still, who was the first African American composer to conduct a prominent American orchestra.
"It means that what we have on our license plates means more than just the blues," Nabholz says of the scope of the concert. "As important as that is, Mississippi also has a rich musical heritage in the realm of serious classical-oriented music."
One thing that Nabholz says that delving into the selected composers' bodies of work revealed was just how much Still accomplished in a time when there were few opportunities for African Americans.
"He was writing music in the '30s, '40s, '50s and '60s, all through that tumultuous period in our state's history—very, very difficult times—and yet, he produced music of great beauty and comfort and solace and encouragement," Nabholz says.
The chorus will debut three pieces-, including Zaninelli's "The Glories of Spring," and Sclater's "In Paradisum," while the Mississippi Youth Chorale will perform Waters' "And This Shall Be for Music." The concert will also feature collaborations with the Mississippi College Singers and Murrah High School Concert Singers.
"That was another goal we had for this kick-off to our 30th anniversary," Nabholz says. "We want to be the Mississippi Chorus, not just for the city of Jackson, and we want to collaborate and draw attention to other good choral things that are going on in the state."
While he says the chorus has fallen in love with the new music, presenting the unfamiliar can be challenging, as some people are less likely to buy a ticket if they do not recognize the composers.
"But the thing I would say about this concert is this is beautiful music," Nabholz says. "People will not go away from this wondering, 'Why did I go to that concert?' They're going to come away from it emotionally moved and hopefully elevated."
"Music Changes Everything" is at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 14, in at Pearl High School (500 Pirates Cove, Pearl). Tickets are $20 per person and $5 for students. For more information, visit mschorus.org.