By Jordan Meiland
Left: Sage Meyers. Right: Members of Company 47. Photos by Charles Sichel-Outcalt.
The Purchase College Conservatory of Music and Conservatory of Theatre Arts came together for a special collaborative performance Wednesday evening in celebration of Black History Month.
“The Soul Voices: Lift Ev’ry Voice” saw performances from the Purchase Jazz Composers Nonet, Professor Pete Malinverni and Lecturer Knoelle Higginson’s Soul Voices choir and Professor Pamela Prather’s BFA Junior Acting Company 47.
Held in the recital hall of the music building, the first group of the night to perform was the Purchase Jazz Composers Nonet. Their performance consisted of “Suite Notions,” a piece inspired by Duke Ellington. During the song, several members had the opportunity to perform solos, much to the audience’s delight. The smooth sounds of jazz wafted through the room as the band played on and several audience members began nodding along to the rhythms. At the end of their performance, they received a generous round of applause from the audience and took a bow.
As the group packed up, Prof. Malinverni came on and explained to the audience how Prof. Prather’s acting students had enhanced the performance for the better. From the audience, Prof. Prather called out “Alright, thank you Pete!” and an applause followed.
Then, in unison, the entire first row of the theater spoke.
“This is not a small voice,” they said, stating the name of the poem.
Arielle Moore. Photo by Charles Sichel-Outcalt.
After the first line, the company’s Black students began standing up and delivering the lines of the poem. They faced the audience and took turns speaking, looking around as they recited the poem in voices that resonated well. Following the poem, all the members sat down as the audience clapped.
Precious Omigie of Company 47 would recite Cornelius Eady’s “Nina’s Blues” next before the Soul Voices choir would come onto stage. As they walked on, Prof. Malinverni sat at the piano playing a tune. Once they were all set up, everyone in the room rose for the performance of James Weldon Johnson’s “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing.”
The rest of the performance followed this pattern. The Soul Voices would perform, then Company 47, then the Soul Voices again, then Company 47 again. This created an interesting experience for the audience. One minute, you’d be serenated by a full choir complete with piano and drums and the next, you’d be a solo performer or small group recite a poem by themselves.
Members of the Soul Voices. Photos by Charles Sichel-Outcalt.
Several performances by the Soul Voices, especially those with soloists, went over particularly well. Sage Meyers’ solos during “Three Little Birds” received large rounds of applause and enthusiastic cheers from the audience, as did the three soloists during “There is a Balm in Gilead.” The choir’s simple, yet engaging, choreography during their songs also made their performance more engaging and gave the audience an opportunity to participate. Some members of the choir even had instrumental solos in which they stepped away, picked up their instrument, and soloed, showcasing how artistically versatile they are.
Members of Company 47. Photos by Charles Sichel-Outcalt.
Company 47’s performances also went well. Two of their poems, “Black Woman” by Leopold Sedhar Sengo and “This is not a Small Voice” by Sonia Sanchez featured only the Black students of the company and were, perhaps, some of the most powerful performances of the night. Arielle Moore’s performance of Jaci Early’s poem “One Thousand Nine Hundred & Sixty-Eight Winters” was a brief, but well-executed, performance that garnered a laugh from the audience when the last line “And, Lord have mercy: white snow!” was read out.
The final performance of the night, “We Shall Overcome,” was a perfect way to end the concert. Everyone in the audience rose and clapped along to the music while the Soul Voices sang their hearts out. Each voice section got a chance to sing the lyrics “we shall, we shall overcome” on their own while the other sections and audience encouraged them with cheers. The song ended to a barrage of applause and bows from Ms. Higginson, who’d been conducting, and the choir.
Soul Voices was founded by Malinverni in 2007. Malinverni, who served as the Minister of Music at the Devoe Street Baptist Church in Brooklyn for 18 years, proposed the choir as a class at Purchase and got permission. The Soul Voices began performing during Black History Month annually starting in 2009.
Knoelle Higginson. Photo by Charles Sichel-Outcalt.
This year’s Black History Month concert, however, was special for a number of reasons.
“Ms. Higginson is the Artistic Director of the Harlem-based Mama Foundation,” Prof. Malinverni explained in an email exchange. “We invited her in so that the students would have the benefit of her expertise. I’ve never co-directed the choir before but she’s terrific! It was nice for the students to see two fairly different ways of coming to the music.”
Not only was this the first time the Soul Voices was headed by two directors but it was also prepared in just four rehearsals. Due to the spring semester’s delayed beginning, rehearsal time for the Soul Voices was shortened. But based on the show they put on, you wouldn’t think it was done in such short time.
This concert also meant a lot to Malinverni on a personal level.
Professor Pete Malinverni. Photo by Charles Sichel-Outcalt.
“I recently lost my Mom, a big fan of the choir,” he explained. “But I’ve had her in my heart for all the rehearsals and everything else. I felt something special last evening, likely, her spirit with us.”
Additionally, after more than a decade of directing the choir, this was his last Black History Month performance as director of the Soul Voices.
The Soul Voices will have their spring concert in April and in the fall, Prof. Malinverni will launch his new choir: the Purchase Jazz Voices.
Lift Ev’ry Voice was a massive success. It combined music and theater seamlessly into one program with its powerful, passionate poetry performances and soulful, spirited song selections.
“I thought it was wonderful," Prof. Malinverni reflected. "Varied, exciting and full of heart.”
You can view a recording of the concert here
Company 47 with Professor Pamela Prather and Professor Pete Malinverni. Photo by Charles Sichel-Outcalt.