The Edmonton Metropolitan Chorus is working on a benefit concert with a lot of big soul.
Tonight at First Presbyterian Church, it opens its ninth season with Freedom is in Our Hands, a modern day call to action challenging us to eliminate 21st century child slavery.
In particular, three areas of child exploitation appall conductor David Garber: indentured child labour, child trafficking and child soldiers.
“Our focus is on slavery. The idea is to think of slavery not as something that has happened in the past, but something that continues today. Even though we think child slavery has been abolished, it happens in many parts of the world. It’s not over and it’s not acted on by many governments,” said Garber, a former music teacher at Sir George Simpson and W.D. Cuts School.
For this reason he has partnered with students from Fort Saskatchewan’s Rudolph Henning Jr. High. They are working jointly with Free the Children, a Canadian youth-empowered movement founded in 1995 by international activist Craig Kielburger.
It is Free the Children’s “Year of Education” and the students are fundraising to help build 200 schools in developing countries, said Garber. They will make a presentation and donations will be accepted.
The large choir, about 120 voices, has earned a reputation for its fresh and upbeat brand of choral music. This one-hour concert aims to entertain, educate and inspire with a series of Afro-American spirituals and gospel tunes.
Included in the menu are songs passed orally among slaves from one plantation to the next, songs of pain and sadness co-mingled with hope, love and joy.
Several of Garber’s choices include celebrated works such as Soon Ah Will Be Done, My Lord What a Mornin’, Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen, Swing Low Sweet Chariot and Dere’s No Hiding Place.
“The music of African-American slaves is so powerful and so moving. When you think of the life slaves experienced, it’s such a horrific thing. We often tend to think of slaves as adults. But families were torn apart, children from their mother’s arms. Children grew up without families and not knowing love and living in terrible conditions. And it continues.”
Garber was raised to think of people’s welfare and how he could help others.
“In all of my music, the thing I am most passionate about is human issues rather than technical correctness and musical ideas. Music in our lives has to express personal values, not just abstract thoughts.”
The evening starts off with a narrated script that underscores the passion and the drama of child slavery. Based on true stories, the script is divided into four sections, each one detailing a form of slavery.
“It’s about how each of these children were forced into labour, as soldiers and into trafficking and how they overcame it.”
One of the evening’s highlights is an a cappella arrangement of Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child, a song that underscores human trafficking. While soprano Janet Smith sings the tune special guest dancer Tony Olivares creates the footwork.
“It’s a modern dance. Tony will express the passion or mood or tragedy of the song. And Janet is such a wonderful interpreter of song. She is so expressive it rips your heart out. I’ve seen her performance of Afro-American spirituals and she’s captivating.”
St. Albert’s own Gerald Widlake (bass) sings Deep River, a spiritual that symbolizes division.
“For some reason, rivers were used as borders between countries. In my mind I see it as a divider and we want to cross over and meet people on the other side rather than use rivers as walls,” Garber noted.
Another St. Albert tenor, Trent Worthington takes on the solo part for Wade in the Water, a tune plantation slaves used as signal that the coast was clear for a planned escape.
Three other St. Albert choir singers are soprano Christine Campbell, alto Laura Kurylo and soprano Marilyn Metcalfe. As well, Sturgeon County soprano Jessica Del Cole joins choir.
“This concert is about people who struggle. There’s a tendency to think trafficking and slavery is outside Canada. But the music verbalizes the idea that it crosses over natural and racial boundaries and speaks to all people in a unique musical form. It’s such a passive form of human existence and it calls us to do something today.”
Freedom is in Our Hands
Edmonton Metropolitan Chorus
Saturday, Nov. 30 at 7:30 p.m.
First Presbyterian Church
10025 – 105 St.
Tickets: $15/adults; $10/students, seniors; $5/children under 12. Call 780-420-1757 or purchase online at www.tixonthesquare.ca. At the door: $20/adults; $15/students, seniors; $10/children under 12