Choral Arts Society of Washington honors MLK with ‘Living the Dream … Singing the Dream’

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'Living the Dream...Singing the Dream' (Part 1)

Arts organizations across America are proudly celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

The Choral Arts Society of Washington presents “Living the Dream … Singing the Dream.”

“It’s a program conceived in 1969 by our founder, Norman Scribner … as an answer to the riots that occurred after the assassination,” Executive Director Tad Czyzewski told WTOP. “It’s a musical celebration of the life and ideals of Dr. King … nothing surpasses the power of music to knit together our differences, heal our wounds and inspire our spirits.”

The 44th annual choral tribute was originally planned for January, but due to the spike in COVID-19 cases, it’s being moved to April 10 at the Kennedy Center.

“Singing is a very complex process that requires people to be in very proximity to each other, expelling air,” Czyzewski said. “With the rates of omicron happening right now in the D.C. area, we decided to move it for the safety of our patrons, staff and singers.”

The concert is performed in a partnership between the Choral Arts Society of Washington and Washington Performing Arts’ Men, Women and Children of the Gospel Choir.

“There’s a composer named Moses Hogan who unfortunately left us way too early,” Czyzewski said. “He was this amazing, prolific composer and arranger, mostly known for his spirituals. One of the pieces, ‘My Soul’s Been Anchored,’ ends in this full-throttled sound of all the sopranos on this really high note that makes your goosebumps stick up.”

You’ll also hear a newly commissioned piece by D.C. composer Nolan Williams.

“The piece is called ‘We Are the Ones to Heal Our Land,'” Czyzewski said. “It’s really an answer or a call to our generation and our society that we are the ones responsible for tackling climate change, racial inequality and preventing injustice.”

The program also includes Timothy Wright’s, “Come Thou Almighty King,” Lela Anderson’s “I Opened My Mouth to the Lord,” Derrick Hall’s “You’re the Lifter,” Tim Godfrey’s “Onaga,” Gail Jones Murphy’s “Why Do We Sing,” B.E. Boykin’s “Stand Up for What’s Right,” Donald E. Dillard’s “Didn’t It Rain?” and Ralph Herndon’s “Work While It’s a Day.”

“We are thrilled to be returning to live performance on the stage at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall,” Czyzewski said. “We haven’t performed there since (the pandemic). The last time we did this piece actually was in 2020 … it’s a hall that holds about 2,200 people and it is typically filled to the rafters with everyone and it is just a phenomenal experience.”

The Kennedy Center is fitting, as JFK was assassinated just five years before MLK.

“President Kennedy was so pivotal in human rights and equality,” Czyzewski said. “The same with Dr. King. The combination and confluence of these two figures in that space I just think speaks volumes … it is truly a great space that can bring people together. This program fits nicely with the ideals of both of those prophetic individuals.”

The concert will also honor a current figure in the fight for social justice.

“Every year we honor a humanitarian who upholds the ideals of Dr. King,” Czyzewski said. “This year we’re very excited that it’s LaTosha Brown. She is the co-founder of Black Voters Matter. She is internationally recognized as the go-to expert on that theme of voter suppression, Black women empowerment and philanthropy.”

Previous honorees include John Lewis, Ruby Bridges and Sherrilyn Ifill.

“Sherrilyn said something prophetic,” Czyzewski said. “Her daily life is working against inequality … but it’s also the part of every single person. She talks about doing the work, anything from reaching a hand out to someone, reading something, supporting something financially or with your time. It’s that collective amount of little things that adds up.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'Living the Dream...Singing the Dream' (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation here.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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