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Canadian choir to bring Afrocentric music to year’s first HBPA concert

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – One of the foremost professional choral groups in North America dedicated to Afrocentric music of all styles will take the stage at Bethel College for the first concert in this season’s Hesston-Bethel Performing Arts series.

The Toronto-based Nathaniel Dett Chorale appears Tuesday, Oct. 9, at 7:30 p.m. in Memorial Hall on the Bethel campus.

The 21classically trained vocalists who comprise the choir have shared the stage with internationally recognized artists such as Juno Award-winning jazz pianist Joe Sealy; lyric soprano Kathleen Battle and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra; and the Signal Hill Alumni Choir of Tobago, West Indies. They have performed at events honoring Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Muhammad Ali.

The singers show talent stretching beyond the traditional expectations of a classical chamber choir – they include all styles and genres of music in their performances, from classical to jazz, folk, blues and popular music appropriate to the traditions of the African diaspora. The chorale’s vision is “to build bridges of understanding, appreciation and acceptance between communities of people, both Afrocentric and other, through the medium of music … [seeking] to dissolve the barriers of stereotype [and] to empower humans in general and those of African descent in particular.”

Chorale founder Brainerd Blyden-Taylor named the group after internationally renowned African-Canadian composer R. Nathaniel Dett (1882-1943), who had a calling to preserve and disseminate Afrocentric music and who performed at prestigious venues such as Carnegie Hall and Boston’s Symphony Hall. Blyden-Taylor established the Nathaniel Dett Chorale to draw attention not only to Dett’s legacy but also to the wealth of Afrocentric choral music.

The chorale released its first CD, Listen to the Lambs (Marquis Classics/EMI Music Canada), in November 2002, a historic first commercial recording of choral works of R. Nathaniel Dett. The Gemini Award-winning Carry Me Home: The Story and Music of the Nathaniel Dett Chorale, a documentary celebrating the ensemble and its place in Canada’s musical spectrum, was released in February 2003. The chorale also appears with guest artists on An Indigo Christmas…Live!, recorded in 2003 (Marquis Classics/EMI Music Canada).

During the 2006-07 season, in addition to their own concert series at the Toronto Center for the Arts, the chorale performed at the Algoma Festival in Sault-Saint Marie, Ont., and in the United States at a number of colleges and universities, at the Cathedral Church of Saint Paul in Detroit, the Cathedral of Saint John the Evangelist in Cleveland and Saint Bartholomew’s in New York, and at the Dance Theatre of Harlem and the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

Brainerd Blyden-Taylor, founder, artistic director and conductor of the Nathaniel Dett Chorale, was born in Trinidad and Tobago and immigrated to Canada in 1973. He founded the chorale in 1998 in response to what he perceived as a musical void in Canada – there had never before been a professional ensemble dedicated to the dissemination of Afrocentric choral music. The response the chorale has received in Canada and the United States since its inception has given credence to Blyden-Taylor’s vision.

Blyden-Taylor works frequently as a guest conductor, having appeared with organizations such as the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Symphony Nova Scotia, the Ontario Youth Choir and the New Brunswick Choral Federation Youth Sing. He recently completed 25 years with the Orpheus Choir of Toronto and he has also worked as a conductor, artistic director and artistic advisor for the Nova Scotia Mass Choir and the Algoma Festival Choir.

Blyden-Taylor is currently a member of the faculty of music at the University of Toronto. He is a master teacher with the Toronto Board of Education, coaching teachers and students in conducting and choral technique and is in constant demand as a clinician, adjudicator and lecturer. In addition, Blyden-Taylor is an active church musician, currently serving as music director at St. Timothy’s Anglican Church in North Toronto.

The HBPA performance of the Nathaniel Dett Chorale is presented in part by the Kansas Arts Commission, a state agency, and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency, which believes a great nation deserves great art. Other supporters include the City of Hesston, the City of North Newton and Excel Industries/Hustler Turf Equipment of Hesston.

Ticket prices for the Nathaniel Dett Chorale range from $14 to $17 with discounts available for students and senior citizens. Season tickets are also available, at prices ranging from $60 to $70 with discounts available for students and senior citizens. Call (620) 327-8158 or (316) 284-5205 Monday-Friday 8 a.m.-5 p.m. for reservations or to inquire about season tickets.

Other artists appearing in this season’s HBPA series include violinist Gil Shaham with Akira Eguchi, Saturday, Nov. 3; Opera Kansas with Keith Jurosko presenting A Most Ingenious Paradox: The Topsy-Turvy World of Gilbert & Sullivan, Friday, Feb. 8, 2008; the Wailin’ Jennys, Thursday, March 6, 2008; and the Boston Brass, Thursday, March 27, 2008. Performances take place in either Memorial Hall on the Bethel College campus or Hesston Mennonite Church on the Hesston College campus.

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