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-- Cecelia Porter

Choral Arts Society

The Choral Arts Society nicely delivered its 20th annual tribute to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on Sunday evening at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. Words often fail to sufficiently describe such significant events as the civil rights movement and the ongoing struggle for racial equality. Here, music inserted itself into the gap between verbal description and expression, beautifully evoking the overwhelming feelings of those times.

The very image onstage of three combined choruses from different age and racial groups illustrated the basic message about freedom and equality. Choral Arts singers were mixed in with the Martin Luther King Tribute Choir, itself a gathering for choruses from across the metropolitan area. The sweet voices of the Maryland State Boychoir rounded out the array. Musically, the sound was occasionally more loud than precise, but one could still hear the uplifting words from such hymns and spirituals as "The Precious Blood of Jesus" and "Lift Every Voice and Sing," known as the black national anthem. The pulsing, religious music summoned revival-like expressions of assent from the capacity audience.

Each chorus sang on its own in the program's first half, with conductors Linda Edge Gatling and Samuel L.E. Bonds bringing out warm and rhapsodic singing from the tribute choir. Choral Arts Musical Director Norman Scribner evoked a calibrated sound from the Arts Society. The Boychoir sang with suitable lightness, and solos by Randall Murrain and David Rissling-Venit received rousing ovations.

Ben Vereen was the charismatic narrator, and civil rights leader Julian Bond, on hand to receive the Choral Arts Society's humanitarian award, delivered a spoken tribute to King.

-- Daniel Ginsberg

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