BLOOMINGTON, Ind.—Indiana University’s African American Choral Ensemble will perform in Germany this month at an international festival of sacred music as part of the group's first European tour.
Raymond Wise, the ensemble’s director, and Charles E. Sykes, executive director of IU’s African American Arts Institute, will lead a group of 27 students on a tour of several cities that includes performances, cultural exchanges and visits to historic sites. The trip is co-sponsored by the IU Office of the Vice President for International Affairs and Office of the Provost and Executive Vice President.
“I am overjoyed that our students will have the opportunity to represent IU and share their musical talents with multiple and diverse audiences in Germany,” Sykes said. “For some students, this will be their first trip to Germany; for others, this will be their first trip outside of the U.S. But for all of our students, this will be an incredible learning experience.”
At Musica Sacra International 2016, more than 150 musicians from five different religious traditions and four continents will gather in the Allgäu region of southernmost Germany, united in song.
Wise has been selected to lead a “Voices for Peace” choir. This marks the first time the festival will assemble members from different groups in a common choral group. In a four-day workshop, Wise will share his expertise on African American gospel music with participants from around the world.
“Not only will the educational and cultural exchange enhance their growth as a choir and as individuals, but more importantly, the students will get to witness the impact of African American music around the world and play a part in its global expansion,” Wise said. “I am so excited that the members of the African American Choral Ensemble will have this opportunity to travel abroad.”
Other highlights of the trip include a concert by the African American Choral Ensemble at the American Church of Berlin, followed by a dinner with IU alumni and staff at the IU Europe Gateway office, which also is in the city.
The African American Choral Ensemble will perform in these public concerts:
- 7 p.m. May 9, St. Paulus Church in Hamburg-Heimfeld—The ensemble will join the Harburg Gospel Choir and SoulBridges vocal quartet.
- 7 p.m. May 11, American Church of Berlin—The African American Choral Ensemble will be the sole performance group in this concert.
- 11:30 a.m. May 13, St. Thomas Church in Leipzig—The choir will take part in the local tradition of performing an a cappella concert in front of the grave of composer J.S. Bach, who served as a teacher and choir director there.
- 8 p.m. May 14, St. Mang Abbey in Füssen—The Maulbronner Chamber Choir also will perform.
- 8 p.m. May 15, Kurhaus concert hall in Bad Hindelang—The ensemble Sama Damaszener, composed of musicians originally from Syria, also will perform Arabic songs on their traditional instruments.
The African American Choral Ensemble will perform privately for students at the Selma-Lagerlöf School in Ahrensburg. Members also will have a chance to interact with musicians from around the world during one of the festival gatherings at the Bavarian Music Academy.
In addition, the IU students will visit Neuschwanstein, the iconic castle home of King Ludwig II, and St. Mary’s Church in Berlin. Martin Luther King Jr. preached at St. Mary’s in 1964 at the height of the Cold War, when it was in the communist-controlled sector of the city. During their visit to St. Mary’s, the ensemble will briefly perform a capella as a musical offering to honor that history.
The African American Choral Ensemble has been celebrating its 40th anniversary during the 2015–16 academic year. The ensemble sings not only traditional and contemporary gospel music but a broad repertoire of spirituals, folk songs and formally composed choral works by African American composers. The group is one of three performance ensembles within the African American Arts Institute, a unit of the Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Multicultural Affairs.
On tour, the African American Choral Ensemble will perform diverse musical selections, including Wise’s arrangement of “I’ll Stand” and his original composition “He’s Worthy,” which will be performed in multiple languages, including English, German, Hebrew and sign language.
They also will perform spirituals by Hall Johnson, which hold special significance to the group. Earlier this spring, the ensemble presented a local concert that recreated the all-Johnson repertoire from its first concert in 1976.
At a recent dinner honoring the group’s anniversary, IU President Michael A. McRobbie said the ensemble has been an important part of the university’s “glorious tradition in the arts” and called it one of the treasures of Indiana University and the Bloomington community as a whole.
“They have also helped IU students and others gain a deeper understanding of their own cultural heritage, and they have served as a powerful means of increasing intercultural understanding,” McRobbie said.