This concert will take place Saturday, December 7 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, December 8 at 2 p.m. in Studzinski Recital Hall.
This Saturday and Sunday, the Bowdoin Chorus will showcase an entirely new side at its first ever gospel concert. Senior Lecturer of Music Anthony Antolini will direct the choir in “Black Nativity,” the story of the birth of Jesus through gospel music and narration written by Langston Hughes.
Antolini saw the original production of Black Nativity off-Broadway in 1961 and fell in love with the music. Although the play only ran for 50 performances, Antolini bought a vinyl record of the music so he could relive the music every Christmas thereafter.
The Bowdoin Chorus, which typically performs classical music, will perform accompianist Aaron Robinson’s arrangement this weekend as a passion project. Antolini’s specialization is in Russian music, but he has been a fan of gospel music since he was in New York City.
For the students and community members who will be performing, the rehearsal process leading up to this weekend has been a new experience. The biggest change will be that the singers will perform without sheet music, leaving them free to move with the melody.
“Eventually we memorized it and got rid of our music so we could just sing as a group,” said soloist Kelsey Berger ’15. “I think that helped us transition to a kind of more easy-going, meaningful, more soulful performance.”
For many of the singers, this is their first exposure to gospel, although some have had some experience through the gospel choir, a student-run organization.
“We’ve been playing with a lot of different types of energies for the songs in terms of tempo, dynamics, musicality choices,” said Berger. “It’s been really fun to experiment with because it’s something we haven’t really done before.”
The soloists have had to draw from their own creativity, since gospel music relies on decoration rather than simply singing directly from the score.
“There’s a whole lot of freedom when you’re a soloist. He said, ‘You sing what feels right,’” said Donatelli-Pitfield ’16.
Just as the singers have changed the way they perform, Antolini has had to change the way he directs the chorus.
“It’s folk music. You don’t hold that in a score like you do Bach or Mozart,” he said. “For me, the biggest difference has been getting them out of the books and getting the spirit of it rather than the details they see on the page.”
The singers have noted that gospel music brings out a different side to Antolini.
“He’s familiar with it and holds it very close to his heart, so I think that helps him encourage us to be our best,” said Berger.
In addition to new singing styles, Antolini is bringing in new accompaniment. The music department purchased a Hammond organ to play the music like it would have been played in the original production.
“In order to sound really good, you have to have the real thing,” said Antolini. “You can’t really make gospel music sound right without it.”
There are a few changes from the original score in order to make it fit the current production.
“We made a few changes to make it easier to sing, but it’s not like Mozart,” said Antolini. “You know what the famous jazz musician said. ‘If it sounds good, it is good.’”
The Bowdoin Chorus’ homage to African American culture has been a new experience for everyone involved—from the director trained in Russian music to the students used to singing classical music. In Antolini’s opinion, this is part of what makes Bowdoin what it is.
“I have had people from practically every country imaginable. That’s what Bowdoin is about. Everybody trying everything,” he said. “It’s like we have this big feast, and we all try each other’s food.”