Guild educates and entertains
By DeShaun Snead

Last Saturday, the Oberlin Conservatory Black Musicians’ Guild held a concert celebrating Black History Month, the 100th anniversary of W.E.B. DuBois’ The Souls of Black Folk and the endearing memory of former Oberlin Conservatory student Moses Hogan.
The 8 p.m. program opened with first year TreZure Taylor singing James Weldon and J. Rosamond Johnson’s Lift Every Voice and Sing in a triumphant and melancholy arrangement by sophomore Ivy Newman. Sophomore Courtney Bryan played the piano, pressing beautiful combinations of chords that could be compared to the soft rolling ocean and the enduring spirit of African-Americans throughout history.
The program continued with Jonathan R. Green’s rich baritone rendition of Moses Hogan’s Deep River, accompanied by Herman Whitfield III. Whitfield fully expressed the somber mood through his playing. This slow piece was full and deep, flowing into one another and gathering images of rushing water and the intense craving to “cross over into campground.”
The next piece was Two Piano Etudes, written by Conservatory junior Courtney Bryan. It opened with frantic high notes and complicated jazz arpeggios along with a heavy melancholy bass. It had the character of a Richard Wright novel or of James Baldwin’s motley depictions of New York. The second “Etude” was fanciful and dreamy, coaxing up beautiful, yet daunting images of fairies trapped inside of a jar. The accompaniment was extremely sophisticated and deep. The piece soon reverted back to the theme established in the first “Etude,” with chords at the top of the register and a heavy, rhythmic bass.
Educational introductions of each composer added to the strength of the performances: the audience learned historical background on great African-American composers and musicians like Scott Joplin, Undin Smith Moore and Duke Ellington.
Another highlight and wrenching moment during this concert came from the stellar performance of Undine Smith Moore’s “Watch and Pray.” Sung by soprano senior Marti Newland and played by junior Courtney Bryan, both Conservatory students, this piece was rich. It recounted slavery and the potent emotions of enslavement.
The words as well as the music captured the weightiness that came with being bought, sold and treated like livestock.
The traditional sound added to this lamentation, exemplifying the reality of the life of an enslaved person. The song is a conversation between a bewildered child trying to come to terms with the idea of being treated as less than human and his mother. The child asks, “Mama is massa gonna sell us down to Georgia...?” The mother merely replies, “Watch and pray.”
The Black Musicians Guild entertained while simultaneously educating its audience, filling their ears with beautiful music by Conservatory students and other exceptional composers.
The program closed with another singing of “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” The audience joined in, standing and feeling the uplifting vibrations of the massive organ, played by sophomore John Barrow. As they sang the lyrics there seemed to be a fresh breeze of hope and a real celebration of a people’s history, struggle and experience.

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