Powerful work at heart of MSO’s Cade Chapel concert

Mississippi Valley State’s University Choir, pianist Tyler Kemp featured


Mississippi Symphony Orchestra’s “Symphony in the Community” spring concert continues its collaboration with Cade Chapel Missionary Baptist Church in an April 21 matinee that resonates with impact and meaning. The centerpiece of the 3 p.m. concert is Joel Thompson’s haunting and emotionally charged Seven Last Words of the Unarmed, sung by Mississippi Valley State’s University Choir.

Inspired by Iranian-American artist Shirin Barghi’s #lastwords project and guided by the structure of Haydn’s Seven Last Words of Christ, Thompson wove the final words or correspondence of seven unarmed Black men, all killed in encounters with police or other authority figures, into a deeply affecting choral work. The University of Michigan Men’s Glee Club premiered the work in 2015, and it has garnered critical acclaim and sparked important conversations ever since.

“It has quickly become an essential piece for countless orchestras and choirs across the country,” MSO Maestro Crafton Beck said of the work. “Because of its emotional impact, an entire social movement of support groups and community activities have sprung up as a follow-up to several performances nationwide.

Both for its music, and for what it represents, “It’s a remarkable piece,” Beck said.

In Jackson, the university's mixed chorus of about 55 singers, led by MVSU Director of Choral Activities Brandon Cash, will perform Seven Last Words of the Unarmed, giving powerful voice to the final words of Michael Brown (“I don’t have a gun. Stop shooting.”), Trayvon Martin (“What are you following me for?”), Amadou Diallo (“Mom, I’m going to college.”), Eric Garner (“I can’t breathe.”) and more.

MVSU’s University Choir will also be featured in American Sonnet for the New Year, a poem by Terrance Hayes set to music by Beck.

Additional program highlights include composer Valerie Coleman’s stirring, best-known work, Umoja (a Swahili word for “unity” and a principle of the first day of Kwanzaa), performed by the Mississippi Symphony Woodwind Quintet, and a solo spotlight for pianist Tyler Kemp. Selections by the Cade Chapel Choir with MVSU’s University Choir will close the concert.

MSO “Symphony in the Community” concerts are informal and welcoming to all listeners, ages, and faith traditions. Admission is contribute-what-you-can.

An open conversation after the concert engages artists and the audience in exchanges that enrich the experience, forge connections, and share insights on the music and its influence.

Community connection is a priority for MSO, from its education programs to its concerts in Jackson and across the state. The Matinee Series and the “Symphony in the Community” concerts are an important part of that effort. MSO President and Executive Director Jenny Mann said, “We are interested in serving everyone and adding as much as we can to the lives of every individual in our community.”

What: Symphony in the Community, MSO Matinee Series, spring concert
Who: Mississippi Symphony Orchestra
When: 3:00 p.m. Sunday, April 21, 2024
Where: Cade Chapel
1000 W. Ridgeway St., Jackson
Website: msorchestra.com