By Press Release

KEENE — The Chamber Singers of Keene (CSK) and the Grand Monadnock Youth Choirs (GMYC) are proud to present an extraordinary community choral event on the 55th anniversary of The Children’s Crusade in Birmingham, Alabama.  On Friday, April 27 at 7pm, the two Keene choirs of GMYC, Elm City Singers and Keene Youth Choir, will join their adult counterparts to present The Children’s March, a powerful musical depiction of civil rights activism.  The concert will be held in the United Church of Christ, located at the head of the Square in downtown Keene, New Hampshire, and marks the first collaboration between GMYC and CSK.


The evening holds special significance for the Chamber Singers. The group will host composer, Andrew Bleckner in the New England premiere of his work, featuring gospel, blues and dramatic themes representing the historic music sung by 4000 African American children as they were defiantly arrested to protest the inequality of the Jim Crow laws of the Deep South. The performance is narrated by Dottie Morris, Vice-President of Diversity at Keene State College;  conducted jointly by Matthew Leese, CSK and Esther Rhoades, GMYC; and joined by Walt Sayre, pianist and Michael Day, percussionist.


This is also the farewell concert for CSK musical director, Matthew Leese, who took the helm at CSK in 2014.  Leese finds synchronicity in this work within the context of national events.  “When I found this piece and started planning with Esther, I had no idea this would be my final concert with Chamber Singers, but somehow this feels like a very fitting way to leave the baton for the incoming director. Working on this stirring piece this year has been uncanny in its timing with current politics and with me gaining US Citizenship.”


The Children’s March, composed in 2013 by Bleckner with libretto by Charlotte Blake Alston, is a compelling work that combines original text with words from legal documents, infused with stirring spirituals.  This important piece is a new, major American composition that tells the story of a pivotal moment in the Civil Rights Movement; a historic action that called upon children to protest the inequality of segregation.  The song list includes “There is a Balm in Gilead,” “Lift Every Voice,” “Run, Mary, Run!,” “Woke Up This Mornin’ With Freedom on My Mind.”


In the first week of May 1963, thousands of children demonstrated in the streets of Birmingham Alabama, protesting the city’s notorious practices of racial inequality. The events in Birmingham were not the beginning nor the end of racial discrimination in the United States, but they signified an important crossroads – one where the youth of the city proved they had a powerful voice to enact change, and where the politicians and law enforcement officials proved they would do anything to silence that voice.


Met with a violent response as the whole world watched, the courage of these children, some as young as 4 years old, culminated in pivotal civil rights legislation proposed by President John F. Kennedy, making segregation illegal.


Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was harshly criticized in 1963 for allowing children to be the catalyst for change.  However, the children saw themselves as the creators of their own freedom. Those brave children said, “This is our future and we want to help shape it.”


The performance on April 27 serves an important call to action for youth and adults alike, an inspirational moment that will live on in the hearts of everyone who attends.  As a gift to the community, and acknowledging the significant cultural contributions of Leese, tickets will not be sold and admission is by donation only.  The inspiring concert will last approximately 75 minutes.  Doors open at 6:30pm with unreserved seating.