A new concert film titled “Amen! Music of the Black Church” featuring the African American Choral Ensemble will premiere at 7 p.m. Sunday on local television station WTIU. The film will be available to watch for a month afterwards online.
The film will include footage from the ensemble’s Oct. 19, 2019, concert at the Second Baptist Church in Bloomington and short explanations of its historical context from people such as Raymond Wise, director of the African American Choral Ensemble, and Charles Sykes, director of the African American Arts Institute. Accompanying the interviews will be historic highlights and styled visuals that give additional context to the musical styles featured in the program, WTIU producer Ron Prickel said.
The concert film explores the meaning behind black church music and the historical significance it has within the black community, according to a press release from WTIU.
“It’s more than just a performance piece,” Prickel said. “It gives you historical perspective about where the music comes from.”
Wise, who has been directing the ensemble since 2012, said the repertoire, which came from different African American churches, will also tell a comprehensive story of music throughout black history. The choir will sing a variety of songs featuring styles from slave spirituals to Civil Rights Era anthems.
The African American Choral Ensemble features a broad repertoire including spirituals, folk forms, traditional and contemporary gospel music, and formally composed works by African American composers, according to its webpage. Wise said that they aim to make the music more accessible and understandable to students. Choir members learn about the techniques of singing and presenting African American music.
Songs from the concert include a gospel style arrangement of the hymn “Oh Happy Day” performed by the Edwin Hawkins Singers and 20th-century civil rights song “We Shall Overcome,” based on a hymn by Charles Albert Tindley that was first published in 1900.
“We Shall Overcome, we shall overcome. We shall overcome someday,” the lyrics read. “Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe. We shall overcome someday.”
Wise said the music is different and diverse, but all connects back to black church music and African American aesthetics.
“All African American churches are not actually the same,” Wise said. “Some churches, depending on socioeconomic status, worship differently.”
The music is designed to bring hope and transform, Wise said.
“When people are going through struggles, they need something to encourage their hearts, to lift them up,” Wise said. “If you can keep a song in your heart, you can make it through anything.”
DVD and Blu-Ray copies will be available for purchase on shopwtiu.org.