Brazeal Dennard Chorale (Detroit, MI)

Remembering, Discovering, and Preserving the Tradition of the Negro Spiritual

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Marvin Curtis conducts a workshop

Marvin Curtis conducts a workshop on spirituals for children. Photo courtesy of Brazeal Dennard Chorale.

NEA: Why did the Brazeal Dennard Chorale want to participate in American Masterpieces?

NINA SCOTT: We decided that we wanted to use that particular umbrella to put it in the forefront that the spiritual is the American art form in music that sprang from these shores. We wanted to make sure [the spiritual] got its rightful place and that we were able to do it in such a way that people were really able to glean a whole lot from the experience.

NEA: Who participated in the festival, and what kinds of activities were there?

SCOTT: We had 20 choirs participate, primarily from the Detroit area: thirteen different Detroit public schools, five churches, one community chorus, and one college. With the workshops and concerts, I would say that the project probably touched close to 2,000 people. [We had] a competition for the choirs, there were concerts each evening that featured spirituals, and spirituals only, and we had six workshops that covered the gamut of interest levels. each evening that featured spirituals, and spirituals only, and we had six workshops that covered the gamut of interest levels.

NEA: How important was NEA support to realizing your festival?

SCOTT: If it had not been for the grant, we would not have been able to do it at all. We did get matching funds, but the struggling economy here in the Detroit area has much of the funding drying up because the auto industry is really struggling right now.

NEA: What are some of the long-term benefits for the Chorale of participating in American Masterpieces?

SCOTT: Many of our Board members attended and watched the whole process, and after having seen [the festival], they decided that this has to be an annual event, so we're really excited about that.

There would often be as many as 200 students or more in the auditorium at a time, and you could hear a pin drop....when that kind of attention is being paid to something, they're learning, they're growing. So the long-term benefit is that the youth who were involved are going to grow like weeds, and they're going to help to preserve and to spread the word about this wonderful genre.