Kinnara to Make Sewanee Debut, Jan. 17

by Bailey Basham, Messenger Staff Writer

The University will welcome renowned choral ensemble Kinnara next week for its Sewanee debut as a part of the Performing Arts Series on campus.

Kinnara, one of the nation’s premier professional chamber choirs, is directed by J.D. Burnett, who also serves as associate director of choral activities at the University of Georgia. This concert will take place on at 4 p.m., Monday, Jan. 17, in All Saints’ Chapel, and is free and open to the public.

Kinnara will perform a multi-movement work called “Southern Dissonance: Portraits for a New South,” which draws on texts from famous Georgian Civil Rights activists, including Martin Luther King, Jr., Alice Walker, John Lewis, Jimmy Carter and Stacey Abrams. The concert, which Kinnara commissioned from American composer Heather Gilligan, will open with a piece by Langston Hughes.

The ensemble consists of Chelsea Helm, soprano; Wanda Yang Temko, alto; Cory Klose, tenor; Steven Berlanga, bass; and Caleb Herron, percussion. Gilligan said it is the aim of this work to comment and invite further discussion on the social issues facing the current and new America.

“This work is about progress and persistence, about standing firm…it weaves together themes that are as relevant now as they were then. The song cycle begins and ends with the question of a dream deferred, offering a musical setting of the 1951 poem by Langston Hughes. It visits a reworking of the civil rights song, “We Shall Not Be Moved,” words that were sung on the Edmund Pettis Bridge in 1965 during the March from Selma to Montgomery,” Gilligan said. “Passages from [activists] explore issues of voter rights and the idea of standing one’s ground. Lewis asks, ‘How long can we be patient?’ and King reminds us that freedom is ‘in our hands’ as we march toward justice. In the end, we return to the question, what happens to a dream deferred? And we hope that, with each struggle, with each fight, when we stand our ground, when we make measured progress while refusing to retreat, maybe we’ll come closer to realizing that dream.”

Kerry Ginger, assistant professor of music at the University, performed with the ensemble in 2019 for their Rachmaninoff Vespers concert series and again for a recording project this October. She said that it is particularly special to have an ensemble like Kinnara representing the South in the world of choral music.

“‘Southern Dissonance’ in particular is such a powerful work because it illuminates and enhances mighty voices from the civil rights struggle in our neighboring state. I think “Southern Dissonance” is important at this moment because the issues of voting rights, racial justice, and fair, equitable democratic institutions are being urgently and hotly contested in American society,” Ginger said. “The writers and speakers in the piece remind us that freedom is incremental and hard-won, that disillusionment and distrust always loom, and that there is hope for change where there is a will to dismantle violence and hatred.”

Reverend Peter Gray, University chaplain, echoed Ginger’s sentiments, saying that Kinnara’s performance of “Southern Dissonance” will be a poignant way of honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“One of the University’s values is courage. [And we know that] our heroes – the people we love to tell stories about at Sewanee – were the courageous among us. As we celebrate Dr. King this year, my hope is that this performance will inspire each of us to be courageous as we strive for justice, equity and sustainability in Sewanee and in the broader society,” Gray said.

Sewanee’s Kinnara performance will be one of four world-premiere performances of Gilligan’s work and will be premiered alongside David Lang’s Pulitzer Prize winning composition, “the little match girl passion,” based on the 1845 Hans Christian Andersen story.

Masks are required for all who attend per the University’s masking mandate. Kinnara will also be giving masterclasses with University students during the day of their concert.

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