Narrowly escaping a harrowing collision with financial calamity nearly two years ago, the Nathaniel Dett Chorale is back on course empowering and inspiring audiences in Canada and the rest of North America through music and celebration.
“We are alive and well,” founder Brainerd Blyden-Taylor declared prior to receiving the Olivier Le Jeune Award at the Ontario Black History Society (OBHS) Black History Month kick-off recently. “We have some good and keen people on our board and things are looking up.”
Because of financial constraints, Blyden-Taylor was forced to turn down a few performing opportunities in a limited 2013 season.
“The challenge of fundraising is always there,” he said. “Last year, we did a full season and we ended in the black.”
Inspired by Canada’s first Black composer, Nathaniel Dett, who explored and promoted Black music by editing collections of spiritual folk songs, Blyden-Taylor launched the group as a professional ensemble dedicated to the dissemination of Afrocentric chorale music. In the last 16 years, the ensemble has performed in Canada and the United States and at the 2004 Pollyfolia Choral Festival in France.
The chorale’s first show this year – Voices of the Diaspora: Way Over in Beulah Lan’ – is on February 19 at Trinity St. Paul’s Centre, 427 Bloor St. W., starting at 8 p.m.
Rhythm & blues singer-songwriter Jully Black is a guest artist on the program that will feature songs of freedom done by enslaved men and women who – as a means of sustaining themselves physically, emotionally and spiritually – created spirituals.
“Our intention with this program is to remind people that even though slavery is illegal in almost every country in the world, it still exists and modern slavery is still quite rampant,” he said.
Following a tour of the United States in early March where the ensemble will be the headliner at the American Choral Directors Association divisional conferences in Jacksonville, Seattle and Des Moines, the group will prepare for the season-ending performance – And Still We Sing iN.Dett.ed – on May 21 at the Trinity St. Paul’s Centre.
Later this year, the ensemble will perform at the State University of New York College at Oneonta.
Located in the Catskill Mountains northern foothills, the university made national news headlines in the fall of 1992 when a 77-year-old woman visiting a family friend just outside the city told police she was attacked by a knife-wielding assailant. Based on a glimpse of the attacker’s hand and voice, she concluded he was Black. Blood at the scene also indicated that the attacker received a hand cut during the struggle.
The college provided police with a list of 78 Black males to assist in the investigation. The release of this list sparked widespread public outrage and condemnation.
“In the invitation, the university said the incident created a lot of division on the campus and that two decades later, there is still a lot of healing to be done,” said Blyden-Taylor who was presented with a Planet Africa Heritage Award in October 2012. “They felt that what we do and represent both in the make-up of our ensemble, the music that we do and the way in which we do it can help to bring about some healing on their campus.”
The Trinidad & Tobago-born artistic director and conductor is also the recipient of a York University honorary degree and the Beautiful Feet Award presented at the eighth annual Choirs & Groups celebration in June 2010.
The classically-trained Nathaniel Dett Chorale was the only Canadian ensemble invited to join celebrations of United States president Barack Obama’s inauguration in January 2009. The group sang at the Smithsonian on Martin Luther Kling Jr. Day on January 19 as part of a three-day festival celebrating the myriad cultures that came together to create the United States.
The following day, the ensemble performed at a public event at the Canadian Embassy