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Choral group celebrates African-American heritage in annual concert



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The African American Choral Ensemble performs a variety of songs composed by African Americans as Bloomington families and students dance along in 2016.  Andrew Williams Buy Photos

The African American Choral Ensemble will present its 43rd annual Spring Concert at 8 p.m. April 28 at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater. 

Directed by Professor Raymond Wise, the group's 40 members will perform works by African composers, including Byron Smith, Phillip K. Jones, II, Stevie Wonder and others. The evening will also feature works composed by Wise himself. 

The program includes spirituals, African folk songs, traditional and contemporary gospels, secular music and opportunities for audience participation. Additionally, the Jacobs School of Music group Notus will join in to sing “Blessed Assurance.”

Wise said every year his group tries to take audience members on an interactive journey exploring African music, from Africa to modern day. 

The African American Choral Ensemble, founded in 1976, is one of three performance groups that make up the African American Arts Institute at IU. 

Students participate and receive credit through two courses, AAA-D A 100: African American Choral Ensemble: Foundations and Practices and AAD-A 339: African American Choral Ensemble: Advanced Studies and Practices, which are offered by African American and African Diaspora Studies from 2:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday and Wednesday. 

The African American Choral Ensemble has toured North America, Canada and Europe, appeared on radio and television and made up the choruses of operas and musical theater productions such as "Porgy and Bess" and "The Gospel of Colonus." It has opened for national recording artists such as The Blind Boys of Alabama and The Charles Ray Show.

Wise said the group is made up of undergraduates, graduates and community members of all variety of majors and occupations, but the students all share a love of music.

The group performs at a variety of smaller concerts and events before its culminating performance in April. Shortly after the concert, the African American Choral Ensemble will hold auditions Monday, April 30, at the Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center, Room 219. 

Wise said the spring performance is meant to unify the community through music. 

“It’s what we call a collective art. It’s not just an experience to watch, it’s an experience to participate throughout,” Wise said. “That’s a wonderful opportunity for community-building, unifying especially at this time that we are in our world when there are so many things dividing us, it’s a wonderful opportunity for us to bring community together. 

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