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Friday, May 24
The Indiana Daily Student


‘From Africa to Ellington’ showcases versatility

Choral Ensemble presents diverse concert, songs

The African American Choral Ensemble sings "Hallelujah Hosanna," a South African/Swaziland praise song, Saturday evening at the John Waldron Arts Center Auditorium. The program included classically-arranged pieces, comtemporary Gospel and jazz-infused arrangements.

From African a cappella songs to classically arranged pieces and jazz-infused medleys, the African American Choral Ensemble proved its vocal versatility in a concert Saturday evening at the John Waldron Arts Center.

The performance’s theme was “From Africa to Ellington” and featured a Nigerian folk song, a spiritual medley, a South African and Swaziland praise song, contemporary gospel sets and “Tribute to Ellington,” arranged by director Keith McCutchen. Guest performers included the IU Jazz Ensemble and Tap Casual, which closed the evening with energetic tap dancing.

McCutchen said he selected the diverse songs to “help reconnect to those aspects many students would not have had a chance to articulate.”

“We utilize classical techniques but are also always rooted to oral expressions, to traditions that are rooted in the African-American musical experience,” he said.

He said he also includes spiritual elements to incorporate a “historical time period that has become part of the American and universal choral canon” and as a “catalyst to the new genres.”

“What we haven’t done before is perform African song,” McCutchen said, “so we start with a Nigerian song that speaks of home.”

Another piece, “Psalm Shout,” was written by IU alumnus Robert Morris, Ph.D. It was classically arranged with gospel shout and jazz elements in the accompaniment and harmony, McCutchen said.

Xan Jennings, a graduate student in voice performance, was most excited about “Tribute to Ellington,” especially after taking a Duke Ellington history course this year.

“It’s really exciting to have studied that music and now to be able to perform it,” she said. “This is something that since I’ve been here, I’ve never seen before. To actually do that Duke Ellington suite is really something special.”

McCutchen said he arranged the “Tribute to Ellington” to show the breadth of Ellington’s genius in his sacred writing.

“I was trying to capture the beat of Ellington in the orchestration for something similar but different,” he said. “It’s a beautiful ballad, the exuberance of praise that erases the boundaries between sacred and secular.”

Graduate student Justin Merrick said he enjoyed being part of the ensemble this year.
“It’s definitely an interesting experience,” he said. “This is a special art form of the African diaspora. It’s a way for me to stay connected through my music.

“It’s like family,” he added. “It’s a very nurturing environment. It’s very diverse. I would recommend it for someone looking for a different music experience. It’s culturally enriching too.”

Ed Marshall, IU vice president of diversity, equity and multicultural affairs, attended the concert and echoed similar views.

“I think it’s very energetic,” he said. “It’s lively. It’s a bridge between cultures with different genres. It’s very inspiring.”

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