It was just a few months ago when the immensely talented and popular District singers, the Congressional Chorus traveled to the South for a series of moving concerts in iconic locations of the Civil Rights Movement.
Now, once again led by Artistic Director David Simmons, they’re making final tune-ups for “Nevertheless, She Persisted: America’s Women Composers, which will include a dance troupe and several guest vocalists and musicians.
The concert takes place on Sunday, Nov. 24, 4:30 p.m., at the Church of the Epiphany in Northwest and promises be a festive, moving afternoon. Simmons spoke with the Washington Informer about the upcoming performance and how he selected the theme and music.
“Over the past 10 years, we’ve devoted a lot of time on our concert programs to the issues of racial equality and racial justice, the issues of equality and justice for the LGBT community, as well as issues of equality and justice for our immigrant communities and issues of gender discrimination,” Simmons said. “It struck me that as we are a musical organization, we should hone in on the particular struggles of women composers to have their music published, programmed and heard in an industry that is still strongly dominated and controlled by men.”
“I wanted to shine a light on the fact that women composers of the past really had to PERSIST against adversity and a great deal of cards stacked against them to have their music heard. I also wanted to highlight not only the incredible accomplishments of the trailblazing women composers of the past, but to also shine a light on the incredible work being created by TODAY’S women composers.”
Simmons says that being a community choir in a major cosmopolitan area has its usual challenges: being heard when competing with much larger venues and organizations and fundraising — a task, he said, “Never stops.”
“D.C. is filled with many community choirs, all of whom are struggling to get the public’s attention and we don’t have the advantage of being the only game in town,” he said. “As for the fundraising side, I have to ensure that it doesn’t overwhelm the artistic side of my job.”
He notes that he tends to like music that’s “all over the chart” in terms of composition and style but especially prefers works that, while accessible to all listeners, still challenge audiences to “stretch their musical imaginations” — pointing to the following selections from this concert for illustrative purposes: Jennifer Higdon’s “A Quiet Moment,” Libby Larsen’s “Look, Be, Leap!,” Elizabeth Walker’s “Same Birds” and Rosephanye Powell’s “Get Busy!”
The concert will feature a young composer, Crys Matthews, a Black lesbian and preacher’s kid from North Carolina who has dedicated much of her work to the creation of music with a real social conscience. She proclaims having witnessed the power of music from an early age. The former drum major and classically-trained clarinetist turned folk singer has since chosen to use her voice to answer Dr. King’s call to be “a drum major for justice.”
“Not only do the lyrics of her works address issues that are important to our chorus, such as the Black Lives Matter movement and the gender equality movement, but I absolutely adore her music,” Simmons said. “It has a fresh, clean, yet gritty sound that will serve as a good counterpoint to some of the other works on the concert. There is nothing manufactured about her sound. She’s genuine and unique.”
What’s up next for the Congressional Chorus? They’ll be back in mid-March for their annual cabaret performances, this time entitled “Vogue: Return to the 90s.” They’ll close the season on May 30 when they collaborate with the Capital City Symphony.
For tickets, visit www.congressionalchorus.org or call 202-629-3140. Washington Informer readers can receive 30 percent of all ticket prices using ticket code INFORMER when purchasing online.