Selma, Alabama school choir tours Vermont

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(Host) The high school chorale from Selma, Alabama brought its music to schools and churches in Chittenden County this week. The tour offers Vermonters a chance to get to know African-American students from the south, and to hear their songs.

VPR’s Lynne McCrea has more.

(McCrea) The charter bus from Selma, Alabama pulled into Vermont early Sunday morning with a full, four-day itinerary. The schedule has included several lunch and dinner engagements and six choral performances beginning with Sunday mass at St. Michael’s College.

(Sound of choir singing at St. Michael’s.)

(McCrea) The trip is being sponsored by St. Michael’s College and by the Foundation for Excellent Schools. FES is a national group, based in Vermont, which looks for ways to enrich educational experiences. Kyle Dodson is FES program director and multicultural student affairs director at Saint Michael’s:

(Dodson) “In the south, and in particular the African-American tradition, music and instrumental pursuits are just much more popular. So this is a choir that has auditions. You know, lots of places you have to drag people in to be in a choir. Here, you audition. So it’s incredibly high-quality.”

(McCrea) At Winooski’s Elementary School and High School, the choir sang a range of music, from classical to gospel to the song “The Greatest” from the movie soundtrack “Ali”.

Stanley Carmichael has sung in the Selma choir for three years:

(Carmichael) “It’s like, we’re African-American. And people usually – they tend to think we only sing gospel. But our choir, we sing classical, spirituals – you name it we sing it.”

(McCrea) Selma High School senior A’shantey Green says the diversity of their music shows the choir’s skill and some of its personality.

(Green) “And then we have the black church experience, which we’re most familiar with that. And that’s the easiest but also the funnest because we get to add soul and flavor and other good stuff.”

(Sound of singing in a college classroom.)

(McCrea) At a small seminar at St. Michael’s, the high school choir gives a sample of its range, while choir director Alvin Tuck shares his perspective with the college students:

(Tuck) “Some would think at our high school, that because we sing classical music, that we’re ‘strange.’ Sometimes, all you have to do is make the expectation visible and once it becomes visible, it’s attainable. And I think that’s what this whole thing is about.”

(McCrea) The Selma visit is especially relevant for this weekly seminar on “Race in America”. The Vermont students discuss the lack of diversity here.

(Student) “I’m very comfortable here. I know some towns that wouldn’t be that comfortable sitting with black students, with a black teacher, listening to a black lecture.”

(McCrea) For choir members A’shantey Green and Stanley Carmichael, the trip to Vermont has been an eye-opening experience:

(Green) “We have enjoyed Vermont. It’s different. We even adopted an accent – we’ve been doing stuff like ‘Whad-a-ya-tawkin-about?'” (Laughs.) “Because they have that accent.”

(Carmichael) “We got to learn a lot about each other. Like people from the north have stereotypes about the south and people from the south have stereotypes about people from the north. Not that different. Been a great experience.”

(McCrea) And, if nothing else, it has been four days filled with music. Kyle Dodson, who organized this trip, encourages everyone to join in. He hopes people hear the music, and its message:

(Dodson) “At the end of the day, I hope people here leave and feel like the distance between those of us here in the whitest state in the union and Selma, Alabama – which is such a historic and African-American place – that the 1,600 miles, and the years of slavery and racial injustice can – we can cut through that and just connect, as people, and rejoice in our togetherness.”

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Lynne McCrea

(Host) The Selma High School Philharmonic Chorale caps off its Vermont tour Wedensday night with a performance at St. Michael’s College.

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