Oratorio Chorale

Amazing Grace: The American Spiritual

Amazing Grace: The American Spiritual
With countertenor Reginald Mobley and soprano Mary Sullivan

Friday, May 19, 7:30 p.m. St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, Falmouth
Saturday, May 20, 2:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m., St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Brunswick

In collaboration with the Portland Abyssinian Meeting House, the third-oldest African American meeting house in the United States, the Oratorio Chorale presents “Amazing Grace: The American Spiritual,” May 19-20 in Falmouth and Brunswick. Concert soloists are countertenor Reginald Mobley and soprano Mary Sullivan.

This multimedia performance takes the audience on a journey tracing the history of American spirituals through Pre-Emancipation Folk Singing, Emancipation, Post-Emancipation Concertized Spirituals, the tangled identity of “Amazing Grace,” and 20th-century gospel.

Artistic Director Emily Isaacson notes: “People keep asking me, ‘What is a largely white choir in Maine doing singing spirituals?!’ But if we can only sing music that is part of our direct cultural heritage, then does that mean we can’t sing Rachmaninoff, Debussy, Piazzolla, or Mozart? Or we can’t perform music from 300 years ago?

“Whenever I am preparing a concert, I always study the political, historical, and social context, as well as the performance tradition around the music. That preparation does not change just because this music is in English and from my home country. In fact, it pushes me to dig deeper, past my own assumptions, to understand why this music is so powerful.

“This concert is multi-sensory, multi-media and interactive. Our aim is that through listening, watching, reading, and singing, the audience can join us in understanding and celebrating this music.”

About the Soloists

Reginald Mobley is a countertenor who specializes in Baroque music and jazz and traditional American spirituals. A longtime member of the twice GRAMMY-nominated ensemble Seraphic Fire, Mobley is new to Maine audiences but renowned in the U.S. and abroad. He joins the Chorale fresh from a music festival in Essaouira, Mogador, Morocco, and from a private concert for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace under the baton of Sir John Eliot Gardiner.

Soprano Mary Sullivan, the Oratorio Chorale’s artist-in-residence, has appeared as a soloist with ensembles throughout New England and is the soloist in residence at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Portland.

Abyssinian Meeting House

As a place of worship and the cultural center for African-Americans in southern Maine from 1828 to 1917, the Abyssinian Meeting House once resonated with spirituals.

“It’s a living symbol of our history and a very significant site, which reflects not only African-American history but that of Portland, Maine, the U.S., and the world,” says Pamela Cummings, president of the Abyssinian Meeting House board. “It is a symbolic building that addresses questions of personal freedom, civil rights and equal opportunity for all.”

Amid an ongoing project to restore the Abyssinian Meeting House to its former role as a hub of arts, music and community events, and other educational programs, the Meeting House board will host a special members’ program on Friday, May 19, in conjunction with “Amazing Grace: The American Spiritual.” The program features a performance by Reggie Mobley, remarks by Oratorio Chorale Artistic Director Emily Isaacson, and an exhibition of artwork by painter and illustrator Daniel Minter, who was commissioned in 2004 and 2011 to create Kwanzaa stamps for the U.S. Postal Service.

Art and Artists

In addition to works by Daniel Minter, which also appear in the “Amazing Grace: The American Spiritual” concert program and other printed materials, art from writer and children’s book illustrator Ashley Bryan will provide the backdrop for the concert and can also be found in the program. Bryan was the U.S. nominee for the 2006 Hans Christian Andersen Award and winner of the 2009 Laura Ingalls Wilder Award for his contribution to American children’s literature. In 2017, he was named one of three Newbery Honor Book winners for Oh, Freedom.

Bowdoin College Associate Professor of Africana Studies Judith Casselberry served as program consultant for “Amazing Grace: The American Spiritual.”