Elon choral ensembles collaborate virtually on ‘Thank You Lord’ performance

The ensembles collaborated with Morehead State University, CU Boulder and CU Anschutz

During the fall, the Elon choirs Camerata, Chorale and élan collaborated with choirs from Morehead State University, the University of Colorado at Boulder and the University of Colorado at Anschutz to produce a cover of Walter Hawkins’ “Thank You Lord.” Zach Day, a former Morehead student who also appeared on “The Voice,” was featured as soloist.

Jacqueline Pennel, choral director at CU Anschutz writes:

If you ask any choir director why they chose a career in choral music, one of their reasons will undoubtedly be the close relationships that result from voices raised in song. I personally pursued choral teaching because I wanted to elicit for others the emotions I felt singing music in a group. Choral music is powerful because of the community aspect-individual voices with unique tone qualities come together to create a blend of connected harmonies that are even more beautiful together.

This year, every choir director faced the same challenge: how do we continue to stay connected through song during a pandemic? How can we continue to build relationships and develop compassion, empathy, and understanding in such a divisive environment? These are precisely the questions that prompted this collaborative project.

Those of us in choral music truly believe in the power of music and its ability to connect us during times of separation and heal us during times of hardship. Stephen Futrell (Elon University) says that this project was an opportunity to further develop relationships and create new ones through music despite the circumstances seemingly separating us this year. This project brings together several different schools from across the nation including CU Boulder, Elon University, Morehead State University, and University of Colorado Anschutz. These schools represent very different types of institutions (private, public, and a medical campus) and students with varying musical backgrounds. Many students from these schools are pursuing degrees and careers in music, while others have demanding jobs in hospitals and sing in choir for the joy it brings to their lives.

Roosevelt Richard Escalante from Morehead State University said that “this collaboration speaks to the transcendent power of music. Music has the power to heal divides culturally, racially, and politically. It also is a reminder that we are more similar than we are different.”

So much of our music studies in the US is centered on Western European Music. Walter Hawkins’ “Thank You” was chosen for this virtual project specifically because it is a gospel piece and gospel music is a style that is unique to the United States of America and part of American culture. Gregory Gentry from the University of Colorado Boulder states that with this project, he wanted to expose students to the stylistic features of gospel guided by experts, celebrate an artist of the American black culture, and share this wonderful work with a large online audience.

The opening verse of Walter Hawkins’ “Thank You” begins with the following text: “Tragedies are commonplace. All kinds of diseases, people are slipping away. The economy’s down, people can’t get enough pay. As for me, all I can say is ‘Thank You Lord for all you done for me.’”

This line is representative of the very real hardships of 2020. All of us hope this project promotes compassion, understanding, community, and kindness during this difficult time. It is more important than ever to close divides and create unity. Music is one of the most powerful forces we have to connect us and I am so thankful for the opportunity to be a part of this project. We hope it brings as much meaning and joy to our audience as it did for us and our singers.

The promo video can be viewed here (released two weeks ago):

Conductors involved in this project:

Associate Professor Stephen Futrell and Associate Professor Gerald Knight – Elon University

Associate Professor Roosevelt Escalante – Morehead State University

Associate Professor Gregory Gentry – University of Colorado Boulder

Professor Jacqueline Pennell – University of Colorado Anschutz