“UNIVERSITIES, UNIVERSITIES, UNIVERSITIES!” (2)

The University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory choirs and orchestra will present the Kansas City premiere of Margaret Bonds’ Credo at Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts on Friday, May 6, 2022. The past two years have been difficult for everyone, especially difficult for performing artists. COVID, instances of racial injustice, political divisiveness — it was the “perfect storm” so to speak. Out of this struggle developed a collective consciousness in my students that is nothing short of phenomenal. More than ever, students want to engage in music making that makes a difference, that has something to say. W.E.B. Du Bois’ words and Margaret Bonds’ music has been the culmination of a year of finding ways to formulate music that makes an impact.

I’ve promised the students that we will always take the time to discuss the text of Credo as we rehearse it. Although rehearsal time is limited, I have asked the students to “unpack” the text when new material is introduced. In the wake of the killing of George Floyd, I found several lines of text to be especially poignant: “the right to breathe and the right to vote.” The work is both a reminder of our shared humanity and a call to action. Some of our most interesting discussions surrounded the final movement of the work: “I Believe in Patience.” Is there room for patience when society is witness to such unbelievable acts of injustice? But Du Bois and Bonds use the word “patience” not to mean waiting for something to happen, but to mean persevering in the faith and knowledge that it will happen.

The work is challenging both musically and emotionally. It is important to me that the students feel that they have the opportunity to share their ideas about and, at times, their discomfort with the text. For many of my students, they feel as if they need “permission” to engage in singing texts that might not reflect their personal story. For other students, they need their peers to stand alongside them and reflect their communities’ struggles with race, including systematic racism and injustice.

To be able to offer the Kansas City premiere of Bonds’ Credo is an honor. At the same time, I feel that this music and text is sacred to a community of people of which I am a guest. My hope is that our efforts are worthy of the magnitude of this project and that it will make a difference on the lives of all who sing it, play it, or listen to it.

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A musicologist with a passion for social justice, bringing unheard music to life for performers and listeners, and teaching.

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