Amazingly enough, I got to attend another concert this past weekend with my daughter T at Trinity Church where we heard the St. John Passion in April. This was also a concert with the Madrigal Choir of Binghamton and Trinity Church Choir, along with Tabernacle United Methodist Choir and members of the Binghamton High School Choir. They were joined by countertenor Derek Lee Ragin and pianist Pej Reitz for “A Moses Hogan Celebration.”
Moses Hogan (1957-2003) was a multifaceted musician who is most well known for his stunning arrangements of Negro spirituals and most of the program was given to performances of these arrangements. Derek Lee Ragin met Moses Hogan at Oberlin College Conservatory and, while pursuing a career in opera, also performed and recorded with the Moses Hogan Chorale and Moses Hogan Singers. Also, Moses’ younger sister, Dr. Ava Hogan-Chapman, and her daughter were in attendance. It was wonderful to have people who knew him so well there to tell us more about him, and, of course, to hear Derek Lee Ragin sing.
I had sung a couple of Moses Hogan arrangements and had heard a number of them when E and T were singing in high school and college choirs. These tended to be the more up-tempo songs such as “Elijah Rock” and “Ride on, King Jesus”. While I loved hearing these familiar arrangements in the concert, I was especially moved by some of the pieces that were unfamiliar to me.
Among these was “His Light Still Shines”, a choral medley in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The piece is a blend of narrative and spirituals. Sharon Ball offered very powerful narration in alternation with the choral pieces. I knew Sharon Ball as the retired director of the Broome County Arts Council and as a candidate for New York State Senate in our district. I hadn’t realized that earlier in her career she had been a broadcast journalist, professional singer, and White House staffer in the Carter administration. She brought all of these skills together to speak so clearly and movingly about Dr. King’s work and legacy. Last year marked the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination; it saddens me that we still have so far to go in social justice and peacemaking in the United States all these decades later.
The piece, though, that had both T and me on the verge of tears was “There’s a Man Goin’ Round”, which is a piece about the death of a parent. With my mom in hospice care and the recent death of my college roommate’s mother, that piece was especially meaningful and heart-rending.
It’s a testament to the power of the spirituals, born as they were under the weight of slavery, oppression, and suffering, that they transcend and bring hope, even in difficult times centuries later.