Wichita State’s Impulse Percussion Group and Wichita’s ARISE choir will be performing a world premiere composition written specifically for them.
The performance will be on campus Tuesday night. Hear Carla Eckels’ full story below.
At a Saturday rehearsal in the basement of WSU’s Duerksen Fine Art’s Center, Jerry Scholl, WSU’s Professor of Percussion and Jazz Drums, is waving his baton while conducting a portion of "New Jerusalem."
There are several percussion instruments including marimbas, gankogui, a guiro, chimes and hand bells. Scholl says he came up with the idea to collaborate with ARISE after talking with his predecessor and retired percussionist, JC Combs.
”Through the discussion we talked about creating a new piece,” Scholl says. "Something that’s never been thought of before, which is combining this idea of the late 19 century choir of ARISE with the 21st Century sounds of percussion."
ARISE stands for African Americans Renewing Interest In Spirituals Ensemble. The choir sings Negro spirituals, including ones dating back to the 1800’s.
They’ve been bringing this music to the Wichita community for more than 25 years, with most of those years under the direction of Arise’s founder Jo Brown. Today, her legacy continues under the current director, Shawn Chastain.
"Well as the choral director of ARISE, I also know JC because he is a valued member of our ARISE board of directors. So (we're) bringing that vision that he and Jerry had to our board and to our choir," Chastain says.
The commissioned piece, "New Jerusalem," was written by award-winning composer and WSU Alum, Paul Elwood. He lives in France but is in Wichita for the premiere. Elwood, also known for his bluegrass banjo playing, is very interested in American traditions. The composer embedded four spirituals in the composition.
Professor Scholl says the first thing was to determine how to balance the percussion chamber group with the choir sound.
”How are we going to bring out the music that Paul Elwood has set to these different spirituals and not in only it's typical form, but in actuality, a much more contemporary form?" Scholl asks. "You don’t think of the dissonant note...like you would hear in a Negro Spiritual, but you do in this piece in the way that he’s shaped the notes around the spiritual."
Shawn Chastain says the composer has done a masterful job of incorporating spirituals with which ARISE is familiar.
"The challenge for us though is that...the composer has made these his own arrangements. We have been used to singing other arrangements that are just slightly different," Chastain says. “So it’s rebranding those passages, which has been challenging, but will fit so well with the percussion."
Chastain says he enjoys working with the ARISE choir, many of whom are educators like powerhouse soloist Trisha Garnes.
"Well I’m proud to claim Trisha as a fellow classmate," Chastain says. "We were both students here at Wichita State in our undergraduate degree and we’re also colleagues as we work together in the Fine Arts department for USD 259. I’m the curriculum coordinator and Trisha is an elementary teacher at one of our schools, Park elementary, so it’s wonderful in our day jobs to see those that teach by day, but also perform by night and have a chance to also share their performance skills with the community.”
Scholl says working on the piece has been part of his vision to link to the Wichita community.
”There’s so many wonderful visionaries, artistically and musically here and this was just another step," Scholl says. "I’m always looking for this kind of collaboration and when it popped up I just had to jump on it because creating, not just a piece like this, but a historical event is a pretty wonderful thing to be a part of, so I’m just really lucky to be here and be a part of it and hopefully I’ll make a good contribution to everybody’s work."
After the world premiere in Wichita, Scholl hopes to bring national attention to the piece.
A production of "New Jerusalem" will be held on Tuesday, April 29, at 7:30pm in Miller Concert Hall on the WSU campus.