New England premier of ‘The Children’s March’ is April 27 in Keene

KEENE – The Chamber Singers of Keene and the Grand Monadnock Youth Choirs will present a community choral event on the 55th anniversary of The Children’s Crusade in Birmingham, Alabama. The event is slated for 7 p.m. on April 27 at the United Church of Christ, located at the head of the Square in downtown Keene.

The evening holds special significance for the Chamber Singers. The group will host composer, Andrew Bleckner in the New England premiere of his work, featuring gospel, blues and dramatic themes representing the historic music sung by 4000 African American children as they were defiantly arrested to protest the inequality of the Jim Crow laws of the Deep South. The performance is narrated by Dottie Morris, Vice-President of Diversity at Keene State College; conducted jointly by Matthew Leese, CSK and Esther Rhoades, GMYC; and joined by Walt Sayre, pianist and Michael Day, percussionist.

This also is the farewell concert for CSK musical director, Matthew Leese, who took the helm at CSK in 2014. Leese finds synchronicity in this work within the context of national events. “When I found this piece and started planning with Esther, I had no idea this would be my final concert with Chamber Singers, but somehow this feels like a very fitting way to leave the baton for the incoming director. Working on this stirring piece this year has been uncanny in its timing with current politics and with me gaining U.S. Citizenship.”

The Children’s March, composed in 2013 by Bleckner with libretto by Charlotte Blake Alston, is a compelling work that combines original text with words from legal documents, infused with stirring spirituals. This important piece is a new, major American composition that tells the story of a pivotal moment in the Civil Rights Movement; a historic action that called upon children to protest the inequality of segregation. The song list includes “There is a Balm in Gilead,” “Lift Every Voice,” “Run, Mary, Run!,” “Woke Up This Mornin’ With Freedom on My Mind.”