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April 9, 2004

Washington Times

Watching J. Weldon Norris coach the internationally acclaimed Howard University Choir through a set of spirituals is something of a revelation for both the listener and the singer. That's because despite the choir's easy command of the works of Bach and Beethoven, this time the choirmaster is pushing them to go against the inclination of music majors everywhere. "Don't look at the music and don't read the notes," says Mr. Norris. He has been the choir's music director and conductor since 1973 and holds a bachelor's degree in chemistry and biology as well as advanced degrees in music from Howard and Indiana universities. "You have to feel it."

Walk into just about any Baptist church in the District this weekend, and you're likely to hear at least one spiritual, forged in slavery and carried throughout the world by one or another of the great black university choirs of the late 19th and early 20th century (such as the Fisk Jubilee Singers, founded in 1867, and groups modeled on it).

Sit in on one of the Folklore Society of Greater Washington's Sacred Harp sings, and you'll hear hymns and spirituals that hark back to Colonial New England and the rural South. Browse through the racks at your local music store, and you'll find recordings of spirituals carried to the operatic stratosphere. No matter where you go this Easter in the Washington area, it's likely that you'll hear some variant of the spiritual, a uniquely American art form that encompasses black and white American traditions, European hymns, and African sensibilities. More

Posted by acapnews at April 9, 2004 9:58 PM


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