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LET FREEDOM SING

VOICES OF FREEDOM, SPIRITS OF JOY

WHAT: Hampton University Concert Choir from Virginia and Nathaniel Dett Chorale from Toronto honor R. Nathaniel Dett

WHEN/WHERE: 8 p.m. Saturday in First Presbyterian Church, 505 Cayuga St., Lewiston, and 2 p.m. Sunday in Niagara Falls Collegiate Auditorium, Epworth Circle, Niagara Falls, Ont.

ADMISSION: $5 to $10 Saturday, $20 Sunday

INFO: 754-0166 for Saturday concert; (905) 356-4538 for Sunday

It will be a case of hands across the border and music across the centuries this weekend, as the 131-year old Hampton University Concert Choir from Virginia and the three-year old Toronto-based Nathaniel Dett Chorale join forces for a pair of concerts called "Voices of Freedom, Spirits of Joy" in Lewiston and Niagara Falls, Ont.

This will happen under the aegis of the Lewiston Council on the Arts, and in the shadow of the birthplace of R. Nathaniel Dett, one of the finest of the pioneer black composers in North America. Dett was born in 1882 in Drummondville, Ont., now a part of Niagara Falls. He moved across the river to Niagara Falls, N.Y., as a teenager, later studying at the Oliver Willis Halstead Conservatory in Lockport.

Subsequently, Dett studied at Columbia, Pennsylvania and Harvard universities, ultimately being awarded honorary doctorates from Howard and Oberlin. He composed a great deal of choral music, much of it involving spirituals, and his 1913 suite for piano "In the Bottoms" remains in the repertory of many pianists.

It is Dett's major academic connection, however, which provided much of the impetus for this weekend's choral celebrations. From 1913 to 1931 he was director of music at Hampton Institute (now Hampton University). According to Grove's Dictionary, Dett "developed the Hampton Institute Choir into a superior organization that won critical acclaim on tours in the U.S.A. and Europe."

So Dett was once music director of one of this weekend's visiting choirs, and the other choir was named after him.

But there's more. This will not be the first visit to the area by a Hampton choral ensemble. In 1887 the predecessor Hampton College Choir sang in Lewiston as a memorial tribute to Josiah Tryon, a famed Lewiston abolitionist and mover-and-shaker in the operations of the liberating Underground Railroad.

Today's Hampton University Choir is directed by Royzell Dillard, carrying on the high standards and the ambassadorship for the university so firmly established by Dett almost 80 years ago.

Although a relatively new presence on the choral scene, the Nathaniel Dett Chorale is an inter-racial ensemble dedicated to the promotion of Afro-centric music whose conductor Brainerd Blyden Taylor has already taken the group to a position of great prominence in Canada and the United States.

"In our particularly troubled times," said Eva Nicklas, program director of the sponsoring Lewiston Council on the Arts, "people have a need to hear spiritually uplifting music of the type the 60 voices of these combined choir will provide. The spirit of freedom, inspiration and joy will fill communities on both sides of our border."

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