Concert honors Black History Month

Featured Image: Founded 38 years ago, the Virginia Chorale visited and performed at VWU Sunday, Feb. 5. The Virginia Chorale | Courtesy

The professional vocal ensemble the Virginia Chorale performed a concert on Feb. 5 at Virginia Wesleyan University’s Susan S. Goode’s Fine and Performing Arts Center. The program, titled “Lift Every Voice: Music of Black Women Composers,” included 22 vocalists who performed to a packed house. The singers were accompanied by a pianist and a person on djembe, an African drum. The crowd was a mix of local adults and families as well as some VWU students. Each song was met with an energetic and positive crowd reaction, with applause between each number and a standing ovation at the end of the show.

Prior to the show, their soprano soloist Bianca Jackson served as a guest speaker. When asked about the concept of the show and the importance of Black History, Jackson stated that she wanted to show the public different elements of African American music and culture. Jackson related her mission to W.E.B. Dubois’s poem “Credo” on racial equality and felt that her efforts were aligned with Dubois. She also discussed the importance of the djembe drum to African American music and how the community historically would “use their body to make rhymes for music when their instruments were taken from them.” Jackson is also an Assistant Professor of Music at Norfolk State University. 

The concert’s director, Charles “Chuck” Woodward, said that he was introduced to music by studying piano for most of his life and also has 11 years of experience directing a church choir. Woodward said that he came to the Virginia Chorale because the job of director was open and he has been successful with them ever since he came on in 2012. For all of his performers, past and present, Woodward said that he “hopes to show them how to strive for greatness in music.”

Overall, the singers, all high school age, enjoyed their performance. One performer, Miles Pifer, a senior at Granby High School in Norfolk, said that he liked the way he sang and had an enjoyable time, but also felt that he can always do a bit better as he strives for greatness under the instruction of Woodward. Another singer and sophomore at Granby, Galvin Altim, said that he had been singing for five years and that his mother originally pushed him to do it. 

“This is the best group of young singers we have had,” Woodward said.

He enjoys seeing the “lightbulb moment” in his students,  when everything clicks in their minds and they believe that they can master the songs. Woodward also said that working with the singers is the best part of his job.

According to Woodward, his inspiration for the program was Women’s History Month and Black History Month, which are both in March. Similar to Jackson, he said that a large part of the inspiration was W.E.B. Dubois’s poem Credo, which begins with the line, “I believe in God who made of one blood all races that dwell on earth. I believe that all men, black and white, are brothers, varying through time and opportunity.” 

“I thought it would make a significant statement, particularly in the time we’re in right now,” Woodward said.

Woodward was not alone in this performance– he had help from mentors who worked with students, encouraging them to strive for excellence.

Kamal Womack