By Erin Jude, Director of Education and Community Engagement
After the first concert on Saturday afternoon, I knew. I knew that something truly special had just happened.
I saw it in the eyes of the performers as they left the stage.
I saw it in the smiles and warm hugs of the audience members who clearly hadn’t seen each other in quite a while, and those who were meeting for the first time.
I saw it in the parents who were showing their children where they used to attend high school.
On March 18 and 19, the Northside Celebration came to life on the auditorium stage of North High School in North Minneapolis. This collaborative concert experience celebrated the Northside community through music and spoken word.
Springing from almost seven prior years of partnership, these concerts were co-produced by the Capri Theater and the SPCO. Located on West Broadway in North Minneapolis, the Capri Theater is part of the continuing economic development and artistic revitalization of the Northside community. The SPCO is currently in its eighth season of partnership with the Capri and we couldn’t ask for a better partner.
Pop-up SPCO chamber music concerts started at the Capri in the 2010.11 season and we have presented consistent annual programming there since 2013.14. Currently, the 250-seat theater is filled, three times a year, with an enthusiastic audience for the SPCO’s Chamber Music Series, and our free family music programs, Start the Music! and xplorchestra!, are presented at the Capri annually and are geared toward families with children 3 – 6 years old and 5 – 9 years old, respectively.
Community input has informed and continues to inform all aspects of this partnership. From tickets to marketing to artistic decisions, community input drives the decisions that make SPCO concerts and activities at the Capri distinctive.
In fact, it was community input that inspired the Northside Celebration. During a community luncheon with Northside residents and representatives from the SPCO and the Capri, avid support for a continued SPCO presence at the Capri was expressed, and several themes were heard:
- There is intense community pride on the Northside.
- There is a strong desire to combat the consistently negative media portrayal of North Minneapolis.
- There is a desire to feature local talent and collaborate more.
In response to this feedback, Dennis Spears, Artistic Director of the Capri’s Legends Series, suggested that the two organizations take their partnership to the next level by collaborating to make music together, with the community and with the support of acclaimed composer, arranger and pianist Sanford Moore. Together, we set out to let the power of music speak to themes of pride, collaboration and connection.
Nearly three years later, our project came to life on stage at North High School. For 90 captivating minutes, spoken word, stories and reflections were woven through musical selections. The Northside Celebration Choir, made up of singers from North Minneapolis churches and organizations, sang a mixture of traditional gospel pieces and newer works. The SPCO performed the rousing piece Strum by American composer Jessie Montgomery and punctuated Master Storyteller Nothondo Zulu’s stories of growing up on the Northside with the music of William Grant Still.
A highlight of the concert was the world premiere of True North for community choir and chamber orchestra. The music was composed by long-time Northside resident Timothy C. Takach and the lyrics were written by hip hop and spoken word artist Desdamona, who is frequently found teaching young people on the Northside. Her words were inspired by written responses from young community members who were asked timely and pointed questions about what community meant to them. The result was powerful lyrics set to compelling new music that drew from multiple musical traditions. A composer statement and the words to True North can be found here.
A pair of contemporary gospel works brought choir and orchestra together again to close the concert, and left everyone on stage and in the audience singing the refrain “the best is yet to come!” On that note, audience members and performers took to the lobby where they were greeted by moving images of the neighborhood captured by photographer Bill Cottman, and an electric energy of joy and connectedness. The music had done its work.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the road to these concerts was not smooth and straight. But, it was in the bumps and swerves where the real growth happened and the real relationships were forged. I remain in awe of the choir members and other artists who participated in these concerts and I have so much respect for them. It took courage to participate in such an uncharted collaboration and I dare say it paid off.
Personally, it was a true honor to be a part of the Northside Celebration. Being a part of the Celebration, and a part of this larger partnership, has been one of the highest points of my 12-year career with the SPCO. I can’t wait to do it again, and to do it even better – building on everything we learned, building on the feedback we heard and building on the relationships that were formed.
For the Capri Theater and SPCO partnership, this represented the next phase in our relationship. It has set the bar and the tone for the future.
In the words of the program’s closing song “the best…is yet…to come!”
Click here to view a video feature that captured the spirit of the Northside Celebration concerts.