Morgan State choir will perform in Hagerstown

February 23, 2011|By TIFFANY ARNOLD |
  • Choral director Eric Conway will lead the Morgan State University choir in a concert celebrating black history. The MSU choir will perform during the second annual Celebration of Black History, a fundraiser for the Doleman Black History Museum.
Submitted photo

 Globe-trotting Morgan State University Choir will stop in downtown Hagerstown for a two-hour black history program at The Maryland Theatre.

Led by Eric Conway, 50 members of the 120-student choir will sing for the second annual Celebration of Black History concert, a fundraiser for the Doleman Black Heritage Museum. The museum contains the lifelong collection of Marguerite Doleman, who died in 2000. An effort has been launched to give the collection a permanent home.

For Saturday, Conway built the program around selections mostly from contemporary composers who spin classical arrangements of gospel and traditional American spirituals. The choir will perform Aldolphus Hailstork’s “I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes,” which they recorded with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

“Lift Every Voice and Sing” kicks off the night and the spirituals that carry the majority of the show include old standbys — British choral director Bob Chilcott’s classical arrangement of “Steal Away” and Virginia-born composer Undine Smith Moore’s (1904-1989) arrangement of “Striving After God.”

The program wraps with “The Battle Hymn of Republic.”

Q&A with Eric Conway
WEG: I understand you all sang at the White House recently. Tell me about that.

Conway: A select group of (historically black college and university) choirs were asked to sing. We sang in the East Room — that’s where are all the press conferences are held. What was significant for me, the president ... was being briefed on Egypt. It was quite a statement to say we were singing in the White House East Room a half an hour before the president gave a national press conference on his position on Egypt. I thought it was a big deal we were singing in the White House. We sang for a select group of tourists.

When you all perform overseas, what’s the message you all are trying to present?

The highlight of last year was the fact that we sang in China, at the Shanghai Expo, which is, of course, code for World’s Fair. We sang at the main pavilion, very much representing American music to a population of 20 million people and the 400,000 people attending this convention every day. Our music is very inspiring. In America, I think we all need encouragement, and what better vehicle for encouragment than music?

One thing that’s often referenced when talking about the Morgan State choir is the 100th birthday of Marian Anderson at Carnegie Hall several years ago. It seems there’s some irony. Today there’s this choir from a historically black institution representing American music, though in Anderson’s day, she was shut out of venues here because of her race.

Certainly Marian Anderson, if you want to connect the dots there, was a pioneer of a different era. When we travel internationally, we are embraced internationally, and, to be honest, music transcends every racial or discriminatory bone in your body. That’s why Marian Anderson was able to break through boundaries with her music.

I guess, what I was going to ask, looking here in the U.S., what is the role of music now, particularly as delivered by a choir from a historically black institution?

Our role is to sing everything as best we can. I don’t like to qualify that it has to be different because we’re a black choir. We sang with the Baltimore Symphony in November at Carnegie Hall. We were there two years ago singing Leonard Bernstein’s Mass and had a recording that was up for best classical recording in 2009. It’s all about excellence. On top of that, we happen to be an African-American, historically based choir.

As far as the message itself, in Marian Anderson’s day, she did have something to prove: ‘I can do what you do and I can do it well.’ How far have we come?

Well, we don’t have anything to prove. We just go out there and try to present the music the best we can. I hope our music inspires and encourages people to be better in their lives.


If you go ...
WHAT: Second annual Celebration of Black History, featuring the Morgan State University Choir
WHEN: 4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 26
WHERE: The Maryland Theatre, 21 S. Potomac St., downtown Hagerstown
COST: $13. Call the theater’s box office, 301-790-2000, or go to
MORE: The event is a fundraiser for the development of the Doleman Black Heritage Museum. To learn more about the museum, go to

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