‘African Sanctus’ debuts in Rutland

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(Host) This Sunday evening, Rutland’s Grace Congregational Church will be transformed by a unique commingling of sounds. African drumming and chanting will mix with traditional western choral music in a Latin mass. Some 150 singers, musicians, dancers and technicians will join Music Minister Rip Jackson and British composer David Fanshawe to present the Vermont debut of Fanshawe’s “African Sanctus.”

VPR’s Nina Keck has this preview:

(Keck) First of all, don’t expect it to sound like anything else you’ve ever heard. Part Latin mass, part African journey, Fanshawe’s work is all about blending – blending worlds, blending music and blending spirituality.

Beginning in 1969, David Fanshawe spent several years traveling through Egypt, Sudan, Uganda and Kenya. He carried a backpack and a tape recorder and he recorded the songs, dances and ceremonies of over 50 tribes. Some of those recordings he wove into “African Sanctus,” which means holy Africa. You’re listening to British recording of the work, which was first performed in 1973. (Music plays.)

Rip Jackson, Music Minister at Rutland’s Grace Congregational Church, says he chose to perform the work because of the cultural bridges it builds. Jackson and several parishioners from Grace Church recently traveled to Africa to visit an AIDS orphanage in Zimbabwe. He says the beauty and poverty he encountered haunt him. He hopes the music they present on Sunday will leave an equally strong impression.

(Jackson) “Africa is a whole world apart from us, yet we’re all part of the same world. There’s a lot of wars that are fought over difference, whether it be religious or ethnic or other types of differences. And what we’re saying is this is one earth. And this work is ultimately about peace.”

(Keck) But while the message of peace and tolerance may be simple, Jackson says performing the music is anything but.

(Jackson) “It is very challenging. Rhythmically and harmonically there’s a lot of dissonance in it and there’s a lot of unusual things they have to do. They have to shout sometimes, they have to chant in no rhythms specifically sometimes and they have to interweave with the recording and it’s challenging. But it is pulling together beautifully and many of my choir members have commented on how inspired they are by this music.”

(Keck) In addition to the drummers, orchestra and chorus, nine dancers from the Vermont Dance Collective will be interpreting the music on a large stage built especially for the performance.

(Hunt) “This is much more than a piece of music.”

(Keck) Don Hunt sings baritone in the Grace Congregational chorus.

(Hunt) “This performance is going to be extremely visual and its’ going to be highly emotional. And it’s going to evoke feelings and stir emotions that people aren’t used to contacting when they’re in a church at a choral presentation, so it’s going to be very, very different for people.”

(Keck) Sunday’s performance is free, but donations will be collected to benefit children orphaned by the AIDS epidemic in Zimbabwe.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Nina Keck in Rutland.

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