Vocal Forum concert tackles racism

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When members of the Saint Paul Vocal Forum were getting ready to perform “Immigration: A Choral Forum on the Movement of People” last year, a discussion developed within the group about the underlying current of racism that runs through any mention of this inflammatory subject.

Director David Ryan Moberg said he felt “compelled to explore this topic because of so much evidence of either outright racism or ethnic tension in the news.” The result is “Fear and Love: A Choral Forum on Racism,” which will be presented at St. Anthony Park Lutheran Church on Saturday, March 1, at 7:30 p.m.

The “fear” section of the program looks at the roots of racism and how the fear of losing power, control or economic advantage is the underlying impetus for hatred and racism. The choral pieces — including Rogers and Hammerstein’s “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught,” Lewis Allen’s “Strange Fruit,” and “The Famine Song” by the a cappella group VIDA — talk about the “learned” nature of racism, the sometimes fatal results of racism and ethnic tension, and how racism is used as justification for economic advantage over others.

The second half of the program looks at love as the antidote to fear. “Love, in my view, is the absence of fear,” said Moberg. “Love looks away from and beyond itself, reaching out to all that is different or other than itself.”

The center point of the “love” part of the program is a song cycle by Morten Lauridson, using love poems by Rainer Maria Rilke as text, called “Les Chansons des Roses.” “Nigra Sum” is based on the Song of Solomon, the great love poem from the Bible, and Twin Cities composer Ray Makeever contributes “Somewhere in the Universe,” an anthem to inclusivity.

Interspersed with the choral pieces are what makes the Saint Paul Vocal Forum unique — the readings and quotations, this time about love and fear.

This program is noteworthy because of the collaboration with LaTisha (Tish) Jones, a spoken word artist/teacher/activist/ organizer in the Twin Cities. She will be performing her own poetry and performance pieces throughout the program.

Jones, a 2005 graduate of St. Paul Central High School, is nationally known for her powerful and emotional works and for her compelling delivery.

She is the founder and director of TruArtSpeaks, an arts- and youth-based organization founded in 2006. She has been performing, teaching and leading workshops locally and nationally for seven years.

Jones was named one of the local artists of the year by the City Pages, received On the Verge artist recognition in the Star Tribune, has been featured in the Rake, and has generated acclaim for her performances locally and in New York.

Early on, Jones came to talk with the singers about what she does and how that would fit in with the mission of the Vocal Forum.

“She immediately captivated the singers, both with a performance of one of her spoken word poems and with a little exercise she put us through,” said Moberg. “She asked each of us to write a Japanese haiku about racism. Then she selected five or six to people to stand together as a group and read short pieces of each haiku in a rhythmic, rap-like pattern. She layered the sounds and added another person providing a rhythmic beat by clapping. In a matter of minutes she had a new spoken word piece about racism.”

This will be the first time the Vocal Forum performs in four venues. The group hopes to reach a wider audience and stimulate much discussion about this important and timely subject.