Singing for Tolson's Chapel

November 17, 2005|By KRISTIN WILSON

SHARPSBURG ? Antietam Women's Ensemble plans to bring civilian music of the Civil War era and the emancipation movement to life this weekend at Trinity Lutheran Church in Sharpsburg.

The group's third concert since its inauguration last year, honors Sharpsburg's Tolson's Chapel, the original Methodist church for black members of the community.

"Mainly we wanted to say, 'Hey, look what's here,'" says Georgiann Toole, director of the ensemble. The chapel was constructed in 1866 and, starting in 1868, housed a Freedmen's Bureau school for African-American children. Today, it is one of the few remaining bureau school buildings in Maryland.

To bring the history that surrounds the chapel to life, Toole selected concert music from the Civil War era and other music that refers to the time period.


"I'm going with the main themes that seem to keep coming back to me ? the whole idea of emancipation. I guess a lot of these songs refer to peace, to hope and some of them are just fun. It's not military music, but music of that time that refers to the war that was going on," Toole says. "One of them is a German art song. It's similar to the music of Schubert."

One piece that has particular resonance for the director and the 28-member chorus, is a speech by Sojourner Truth demanding women's suffrage, transcribed recently into a musical selection called "Ain't I A Woman."

Judy Bischoff, a second season member of the ensemble, says the selection is powerful.

"You can't hear the words of this piece without breaking out in goose bumps," Bischoff says. "We rarely hear the voices of the enslaved population. The first time I heard these words, I just wanted to cry."

The concert also includes several musical selections from famed 19th-century songwriter Stephen Foster.

"There's a lot of seeking peace in the words of the songs that we're singing," Bischoff says. "I can't help but think that's a little bit timely."

The women's ensemble is an all-female community chorus that aims to bring both entertaining and "thought-provoking" quality music to audiences, Toole says. Audience members this weekend will be asked to take part in a singalong using music that came from hymn books belonging to late members of Tolson's Chapel. The idea is to bring to life the music that might have been sung in the chapel.

The approximately one-hour concert will be followed by a reception with refreshments. Partial proceeds from the concert will go toward efforts to restore Tolson's Chapel.

If you go...

WHAT: Antietam Women's Ensemble fall concert

WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 19, and 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 20

WHERE: Trinity Lutheran Church in Sharpsburg

COST: $5

DIRECTIONS: Take Md. 65 south to Sharpsburg. Trinity Lutheran Church is at the corner of Main and Church streets (at the intersection where Md. 65 meets Md. 34).

MORE: For more information about the ensemble, go to The Lutheran Church is accessible to people with disabilities.

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