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Congressional Chorus ‘Rises’ for Justice

With its 2017-2018 season underway, The Congressional Chorus is set to present “We Will Rise: The Search for Equality, Justice & Freedom in Song, Poetry & Dance,” which chronicles the crusade for equal rights in the U.S.

For the show’s artistic director David Simmons, it’s an opportunity for the arts community to take a stand.

“It’s a very politically directed concert,” Simmons said. “We’re a nonpartisan group, but we’re definitely sending a message about how important we think it is that the arts are in the forefront of the fight for equal rights.”

Simmons has been working as the artistic director for the Congressional Chorus and the American Youth Chorus for nearly 12 years. While he has always worked with vocalists, poets, dancers and composers to create performances with a message to invoke emotion among his audiences, this year is different, he said.

“What’s interesting about this show is that even the music about things that happened a long time ago has new musical arrangements,” Simmons said. “Almost all of the music in this show has been written within the last five years. There are references to Ferguson and Matthew Sheppard so we’re being as timely as we can be.”

Simmons’ passion has spilled over into the vocalists and performers, who are just as excited for this upcoming show.

“That’s one thing that I’m proud of. David continuously promotes diversity not only in the chorus but in the music that we sing and in the message that we’re delivering,” said Brittany Thompson, a soprano who has been with the chorus since 2010. “Obviously this performance is exactly what we all need to hear right now. There is a message in this show for everyone.”

With the heavy nature of “We Will Rise,” members of the chorus have found rehearsals to be both therapeutic and challenging to work through. Tenor Christopher Daniels says that preparations for this show have brought up some revelations about his own history.

“For me as a person of color it’s more personal,” Daniels said. “It’s related to things that my grandparents talked about, my aunts talked about having to do with racism and segregation and it’s a reminder of what they went through and where we’ve come from. … It puts that in reference for me so it’s humbling to sing this music and it reminds me of my civic responsibility as a person of color. It pushes me forward to understand my responsibility to pass it forward to people who will come after me.”

Chris Urquiaga, 26, an accompanist, composer and soloist, said he is excited about what this concert will bring to millennials.

“I found it necessary to compose a piece called “We Will Fight” to speak to the needs of young people who felt disenfranchised by the system and like their voices aren’t being heard,” Urquiaga said. I wanted to speak to the desires and hopes of those millennials, people my age who are coming up in the world with all of the injustices in our system.”

For other choir members such as Kenneth Fishe, he hopes that this show will bring hope to its audiences despite the current political climate.

“With the attitude of our nation at the moment, this concert offsets that and plants seeds of hope and love and maturity versus people having all of this hostility among one another so it’s absolutely needed and we’re glad to be a part of it,” Fishe said.

The Congressional Chorus and Chamber Ensemble will present “We Will Rise: The Search for Equality, Justice & Freedom in Song, Poetry & Dance” on Sunday, Nov. 19 at 4:30 p.m. at the Church of the Epiphany WDC. Tickets are available at congressionalchorus.org.

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