I managed to squeeze a delightful brunch meeting with my busy friend and colleague Bill Doggett on New Years Day. It was there at a favorite Oakland cafe that we discussed many topics and Bill gave me a copy of this beautiful CD by a young black composer whose work is entirely new to me.
Shawn Okpebholo (1981- ) was born in Lexington, Kentucky. He earned his B.A. in music at Asbury College and his M.M. and D.M.A. degrees at the Unniversity of Cincinatti. Doctor. Okpebholo is currently on faculty at Wheaton College in Illinois.
The present disc is Opkebholo’s first CD dedicated entirely to his own compositions and is the composer’s “reimagining” of spirituals. Drawing on the folk tradition of spirituals, worksongs, etc. as well as classical art song traditions he fashions his personal take on these much loved melodies.
I do feel compelled to mention the beauty of the photography and album design. Greg Halvorsen Schreck took the pictures and Jeremy Botts did the overall design. Powerful stuff.
In a slight deviation from the classic voice and piano arrangements the composer chose to score this little cycle for baritone, mezzo-soprano, viola and flue along with piano. For this writer this was an interesting and suitably entertaining choice.
The singers Will Liverman, baritone and J’nai Bridges, mezzo-soprano are marvelous and sensuous voices and discharge their duties most beautifully. The pianist Paul Tuntland Sànchez is also a composer and very accomplished soloist.
The violist is Dorthy White Opkebholo and is the composer’s wife. She is an accomplished musician in her own right.
The flute is played by Caen Thomason-Redus.
This is a beautiful recording of these loving arrangements of spirituals which can occupy that place in the literature populated by the likes of Aaron Copland’s Old American Songs. A must for art song and folk song fans and a great opportunity to hear some fine musicians at the beginnings of what is hoped to be long and successful careers.