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Gospel and Choral Music Shed Light on Power of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Unrealized Dream

Washington Performing Arts, Choral Arts Society Blend Their Voices

The prophetic insight of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s merits examination and tribute on far more days than the 24 hours set aside each year on the King holiday.

And celebrants of the arts and those who continue to follow King’s mission have another opportunity to remember the “King” with a District tradition — “Living the Dream … Singing the Dream” concert.

Traditionally held in January at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the event underwent needed changes this year given the ongoing pandemic. But for those who feared the show would not go on, there’s reason to celebrate.

There will be a free, virtual showing of performances provided by the combined voices from the Washington Performing Arts’ Gospel Choirs and the Choral Arts Society Chorus, premiering on Friday, Feb. 19.

Access to this concert will be streamed through Washington Performing Arts’ Home Delivery Plus online platform. Those who register will be able to view the virtual performance as often as they wish from Friday through Thursday, Feb. 25.

The combined Washington Performing Arts (WPA) Gospel Choirs and the Choral Arts Society (CAS) Chorus includes 250 voices led by co-artistic directors for WPA, Michele Fowlin and Theodore Thorpe, III, and artistic director for CAS, Scott Tucker. Preparation for the performance required each vocalist to identify appropriate space for recording.

“It’s a lot of work. We started talking about this back in August,” Fowlin said. “We had to merge each of our structures and approaches to coordinate with the singers.”

Further, creating the virtual scenario meant singers could not rehearse in person as social distancing requirements were strictly followed.

“Each singer had to record in their own home,” Fowlin added. “There were specifics for each to follow for the background look and the clothes to wear. Then our music director had to put together all of the tracks.”

This is the 12th consecutive year Washington Performing Arts Gospel Choirs and Choral Arts Society Chorus have collaborated on a musical tribute to Dr. King. The artistic directors juggle their schedules to bring the components together.

Fowlin and Thorpe both serve as local public school teachers. Fowlin earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Howard University and serves as director of choral programs at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Prince George’s County.

Thorpe earned a bachelor’s degree from Oakwood University and a master’s degree at Morgan State University and leads choral activities at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria where he is the director. He became artistic director of Washington Performing Arts Men and Women of the Gospel Choir in 2012 where he prepares the choruses for performances with acclaimed ensembles and performers around the globe.

As the three artistic directors worked with their singers for “Living the Dream … Singing the Dream,” the challenges of the pandemic required vocalists to develop a new set of skills.

“I work virtually with young kids at school but this was different,” Fowlin said as she looks to Feb. 19 premiere. “The greatest part of this process is that every individual learned something about themselves and their artistry within the required set up.”

The performance will be augmented with video footage from previous years.

For more information, go to WPA’s website (https://www.washingtonperformingarts.org) or CAS’s website (https://choralarts.org).

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