Hudson Community Choruses and the Christ Church Episcopal Choir will join with soloist Frank Ward Jr., Feb. 25 at 5 p.m., in a concert at the church celebrating African American History Month and the significant role of Hudson in The Underground Railroad movement.
The concert will feature poignant arrangements of traditional African American Spirituals, underscoring their important connection to The Underground Railroad and the slaves’ perilous search for freedom. Interspersed with the music will be poetic readings, quotes and an opportunity for the entire audience to sing with the choirs. There is no admission charge but free will offering will be taken. This concert is just one of a number of events planned in celebration of HCC’s 30th anniversary.
While songs such as Follow the Drinking Gourd and Deep River seemed to be innocent biblical stories sung by slaves in the fields, in reality they were "Map Songs" — providing in musical language a secret code for The Underground Railroad — a network of routes and safe houses established in the United States during the early-to-mid 19th century, used by African American slaves to escape into free states and Canada with the aid of abolitionists and allies who were sympathetic to their cause.
The "drinking gourd" described the Big Dipper and its North Star pointing to freedom. The "Jordan River" actually symbolized the Ohio River — the dividing line between the North and the South.
Frank Ward, Jr., bass-baritone, will join the choruses as soloist. A versatile performer in recitals, opera and oratorios, Ward has appeared in recent productions of The Barber of Seville, The Marriage of Figaro, Candide and The Magic Flute. A native of Richmond, Virginia, he holds degrees from Morehouse College and The University of Michigan. He serves as associate professor of music at The University of Akron where he teaches applied voice and is the director of its Opera/Lyric Theater programs. Ward will be featured in the solo Slave Song by contemporary African American composer Adolphus Hailstork, in a beautiful setting of Steal Away arranged by Shawn E. Okpebholo, and in the community singing of Wade in the Water and There is a Balm in Gilead.
The Hudson Community Chorus, under the direction of Nathaniel Duvuvuei, celebrates its 30th anniversary this season. The chorus will sing an arrangement of Harriet Tubman by Kathleen McGuire, and then be joined by The Christ Church Episcopal Choir, directed by Valerie Thorson, on arrangements of Deep River and My Lord, What A Morning. The Hudson Community Youth Chorus, directed by Eve Sliwinski, will sing Follow the Drinking Gourd and I’m Goin’ Home On A Cloud. The Children’s Chorus, also directed by Sliwinski, will be featured in Get On Board Little Children (Gospel Train).
Choirs and the audience will join to end the program in Wilhousky’s stirring arrangement of Battle Hymn of the Republic. Christ Church Episcopal is located at 21 Aurora Street in Hudson. Additional parking will be available in the adjacent First Congregational Church parking lot. For more information on this event or The Hudson Community Choruses, go to hudsonsings.org.