BY JORDANNA GARLAND
The Choir School of Delaware (CSD), in partnership with Delaware Humanities held their annual Black History Month concert entitled “We Hold These Truths” on Feb. 19 at Grace United Methodist Church in Wilmington.
The CSD is an after-school program that primarily serves Wilmington’s at-risk youth through music and mentorship. Training young people to lift up their voices, the CSD features an intergenerational, predominantly Black choir ranging from elementary school aged children to high school students, with adults serving as mentors while singing in the choir as well.
Celebrating Black excellence through song, the event showcased a wide display of talent including singing from the CSD’s intergenerational choir and compositions by artist Rollo Dilworth and vocalist Zanaida Robles and a brief panel discussion.
Dilworth, vice dean and professor of music education at Temple University, has had over 150 of his compositions and arrangements published. Additionally, Dilworth has conducted 43 all-state choirs at various grade levels, six regional honor choirs and four national honor choirs.
Robles, an award-winning Black vocalist, has had her music performed by professional choirs, colleges and universities, churches and community choirs. She also has sung for film and television, contributing to projects such as “Glee” and “Mulan.”
One notable performance during the concert was Dilworth’s “Weather.” “Weather” is a poem set to music, based on the poem of the same name by Claudia Rankine. The murder of George Floyd was what prompted Rankine to write the poem in 2020, and in 2021, Dilworth opted to amplify her words and her message by setting the poem to song.
Hannah Grasso, the CSD’s communications and audience development manager, stated that in “Weather” there are many examples of intentionality that Dilworth decided to incorporate in order to recognize and respect the life of George Floyd.
“The ‘Stand the Storm’ melody, for example, in several cases, it’s set on the notes G and F, which, of course, are George Floyd’s initials,” Grasso said.
Before the performance of “Weather,” there was a panel discussion with Dilworth as one of the panelists. The other panelists in attendance were James “Ray” Rhodes and Kimberly Waigwa. Rhodes currently serves as the executive director of the Christina Cultural Arts Center and he has dedicated his life to assisting others with reaching their full potential. Waigwa, a conductor and educator with a focus on music related to social justice, has served as artistic director for two queer choirs in Phoenix, Arizona before relocating to Philadelphia to pursue their doctorate degree in music education at Temple University.
Robles’ “Can You See?” performed by the CSD, is a more modern take on “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Robles samples lyrics from the National Anthem, weaving in social justice issues such as the Black Lives Matter Movement, Women’s rights and LGBTQ rights.
“Can You See?” is a 12-line song that asks the audience to consider the people who live in America and whether those people are truly equal in this country by repeating phrases such as “Black Lives Matter,” “Women’s Rights Are Human Rights” and “Love is Love.”
Brittney Stanton, the deputy director and assistant conductor of the CSD said that because we live in such a divided time in history, it is important to amplify and accept the facts for what they are.
“There’s another piece called ‘Can You See?’ by Zanaida Robles that we’re doing that is very honest and very upright.” Stanton said. “There are injustices in this world that continue to this day.”
Malcolm Richardson, the CSD’s director of education & programming, also helped with conducting the musical performance. He described this opportunity to work with the students as rewarding, after being able to watch the younger students learn the music and hear them discuss various heavy social justice topics.
“The students charged head first and delved deeply into this work,” Richardson said. “I think there’s something beautiful to say about that, but also some curiosity as to how can we utilize our youth to help us with this fight.”