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Cut & Paste — A Deeper Listen To IN UNISON Chorus And Robert Ray's 'Gospel Mass'

Members of IN UNISON Chorus rehearse for a recent concert. Charter member Gwendolyn Wesley is seen, bottom center.  2/28/19
Jeremy D. Goodwin | St. Louis Public Radio
Members of IN UNISON Chorus rehearse for a recent concert. Charter member Gwendolyn Wesley is seen, bottom center.

St. Louis Symphony formed IN UNISON Chorus for a 1994 concert meant to help bridge the black church and the overwhelmingly white world of classical music. Twenty-five years later, the chorus is still singing. Each season it plays two concerts at Powell Hall with the orchestra, plus one a cappella performance and occasional guest appearances, like at the annual season-opening concert at Forest Park.

The chorus specializes in music by African-Americans, from 19th-century spirituals arranged for 120-voice chorus to contemporary gospel and pieces by black composers. The melding of black-American and European classical styles is heard vividly in the finale of the chorus’s February concert, the pathbreaking “Gospel Mass” by IN UNISON’s founding director, Robert Ray.

In this episode of Cut & Paste, charter chorus member Gwendolyn Wesley recalls the origins of the group, and fellow member Brittany Graham reflects on how her participation honors her African-American forebears. In a rare interview, Ray reveals the origins of his opus. Its different flavors are heard in excerpts from performances by https://youtu.be/7Ypq0E9K_0w?t=1" target="_blank">Morgan State University Choir with orchestra, https://youtu.be/G1H43GMlb-Y?t=1" target="_blank">Angeles Chorale, https://youtu.be/Iv3q1r6ZhLA?t=1" target="_blank">Chorus of the Medical University of Białystok (Poland) and a rehearsal of the mass by the IN UNISON Chorus.

The podcast also features excerpts of the IN UNISON Chorus rehearsing the spiritual “Every Time I Feel the Spirit” as arranged by Kenneth Billups and “Freedom’s Plow,” Rollo Dilworth’s re-working of the spiritual “Hold On,” with additional lyrics by James Baldwin.

Cut & Paste logo current summer 2018

Look for new Cut & Paste podcastsevery few weeks on our website. You can also find all previous podcasts focusing on a diverse collection of visual and performing artists here.

The podcast is sponsored by JEMA Architects, Planners and Designers.

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Jeremy is the arts & culture reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.