Texts and musical styles from West Africa, the Americas and Europe tell a sorrowful story of the Atlantic slave trade and all the suffering it caused.
The Emancipation Oratorio, composed by Glenn McClure and commissioned by the Rochester Oratorio Society, will help Chautauqua Institution celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation at Sunday’s 8 p.m. Sacred Song Service in the Amphitheater.
“It’s a 2,000-year-old story that’s still being written,” said Jared Jacobsen, organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music.
The service will feature soprano and baritone soloists, African drums and McClure on the hammered dulcimer.
A poem embedded in the walls of the Elmina Slave Castle in Ghana weaves the piece together:
“In everlasting memory of the anguish of our ancestors,/ May those who died rest in peace./ May those who return find their roots,/ May humanity never again perpetrate such injustice against humanity./ We the living vow to uphold this.”
McClure composed nine short acts which were inspired by slave castle, to Biblical psalms and Frederick Douglass, among other sources.
“It’s still not over,” Jacobsen said. “We’re still fighting a lot of these battles.”
Jacobsen added other pieces to the service’s lineup to instill the feel of music from 1863, the year the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect.
All should recognize one hymn — “The Star-Spangled Banner,” arranged in this instance by Michael Huff.
“I have a great arrangement that uses the other two verses [of the song] that really speak to the core of what it is to strive to the ideals that America has stood for,” Jacobsen said.
Other songs arranged by Huff will include “America the Beautiful” and “My Country, ’Tis of Thee.”
Jacobsen will also feature the spirituals “Ride on, King Jesus” by Robert Fountain and “Beautiful City” by Andre Thomas to capture the feeling of the Civil War era.
“I’m hoping that the music will help people get close to this issue in a way that they can talk to each other,” he said. “Because that’s the most important thing.’