On Fri., May 16, Robert Morris, founder and artistic director of the St. Paul based Leigh Morris Choral, and Anthony Leach, director of the Penn State University Choir and Essence of Joy, presented a convocation address entitled “The Relationship Between Song and Singing in the African-American Sacred Music Traditions.” Morris and Leach utilized lecture and demonstration during their presentation and invited members of the Leigh Morris Chorale and Carleton College Choir in addition to other artists to demonstrate the spirituals, hymns and gospel music that they presented.
Morris, a graduate of DePaul University, Indiana University, and the University of Iowa, has performed throughout the United States including performances at Carnegie Hall, the Orchestra Hall in Chicago and the Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis. Before coming to Minneapolis, Morris served as the Director of Choral Activities at Winston-Salem State University and Jackson State University. His research on African-American hymns and spirituals is often cited in literature on those subjects. Through the Leigh Morris Chorale, Morris and the choir tour many colleges and other settings throughout the country and utilize a performance-based lecture to demonstrate the foundations of gospel music.
Leach, a graduate of Lebanon Valley College and Penn State University, has taught choral music education courses at Penn State University since 1994 in addition to his duties as director of the University Choir and Essence of Joy, a choral ensemble at the University. Born in Washington, D.C., Leach taught in public schools in Maryland, Pennsylvania and New York for 14 years and has served as adjunct faculty at Shippensburg University, Catholic University, and Howard University.
After a musical performance of a spiritual to open the convocation address, Morris and Leach discussed the basis and structure of the spiritual. With the help of the assembled performers, Morris and Leach presented excerpts from psalms and discussed how spirituals have a basis in call-and-response during the performance. After an introduction to spirituals, Morris and Leach led the psalm “I Thank You, Jesus” to demonstrate the “shout,” one type of spiritual.
Morris and Leach then discussed hymns. Leach first played a version of a hymn followed by a concert version of the same hymn with the whole choir. Morris and Leach then performed two different versions of the hymn, “Is He Yours?” by Lucie Campbell.
Morris then mentioned the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles, which brought about the Pentecostal movement. He also discussed the classic era of gospel music, the 1920s to the 1960s. The choir then performed a hybrid version of “Take Me to the Water,” a classic spiritual and then “Hallelujah, I’m Going to Praise His Name.” They then performed “Worthy to Be Praised,” by Byron Smith.
The convocation was part of a four day celebration of African American spirituals. In addition to the address, Leach and Morris, along with many other artists and groups, performed two nights of concerts on Sat., May 17 and Sun., May 18 at the Concert Hall.
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