Chorus to perform a birthday present to artistic director
By Lori Szepelak
SPRINGFIELD -- A four-minute arrangement by Clifton "Jerry" Noble Jr. is a gift that will keep on giving, E. Wayne Abercrombie said.
The arrangement, titled "All God s Children Got Rhythm," was a commissioned work by Abercrombie's wife, Kayla Werlin, for his 70th birthday. Abercrombie serves as the conductor/artistic director of the Children's Chorus of Springfield (CCS). Abercrombie is also Professor Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
On the afternoon of March 17, Noble dropped in during a CCS rehearsal to play the arrangement for the children. Noble is the staff accompanist in the Smith College Music Department in Northampton. He plays for singers and instrumentalists in lessons and recitals, and accompanies the Smith Glee Club and Chamber Singers.
The commissioned work, along with a host of songs in several languages, will be performed May 2 at 4 p.m. at Trinity United Methodist Church, 361 Sumner Ave. The chorus will also be performing works by G. F. Handel, Woody Guthrie, Francisco Nufez, Nick Page, E. L. Deimer, J. S. Bach and Elizabeth Alexander. The concert is free, but donations will be gratefully accepted.
Noble noted that the request for a birthday piece came in rather shortly before Abercrombie's birthday so he wanted to complete it quickly.
"I have best results when confronted with a deadline and the works that I am most satisfied with have most often been written on a tight schedule," Noble said.
Noble added that it was an "honor" to be asked to write music for Abercrombie.
"His career has been dedicated to helping musicians of all ages make and enjoy music to their highest potential," he said. "I have worked with him in many different musical situations and have always been moved by the depth and sincerity of his leadership and interpretation."
After the initial deep breathing exercises, stretches and vocal warm-ups, Noble joined Abercrombie and the children in rehearsing the commissioned work which is an adaptation from the original work titled "All God s Chillun Got Rhythm" by songwriters Bronislaw Kaper, Gus Kahn and Walter Jurmann. Noble said he modified the character of the piece toward the end, adding a "straight-ahead gospel/rock 'n' roll element" that was not present in the original to slightly broaden the scope and impact.
"The work is wonderful," Abercrombie said. "The children are taking to it with great enjoyment, loving the challenges and Jerry's sense of humor. They seem to know that they are part of something unique, that they will be giving this to the world in sound for the first time."
Abercrombie said his belief in music is a human characteristic, that all people access it in some way, and especially with their voices and senses of rhythm.
"This piece affirms that with such joy," he added. "And, of course, there is Jerry's sense of the text, and the ways he finds to highlight things one might miss."
Vera Baker, managing director of CCS, echoed those sentiments.
"The arrangement is written in the ideal vocal range for our children's voices and they thrive on the driving rhythms," Baker said. "The message is wonderful -- we may not have all the material possessions we need or desire, but we all have the gift of rhythm to chase away the blues."
As Noble wrapped up his segment of the rehearsal, he noted that the message of the original piece is that everyone is capable of making music and the act of doing so enriches life like no other activity.
Both Abercrombie and Baker encourage area residents to support the children and attend the May 2 concert. The 50 singers, representing 25 city schools, all reside in Springfield and are eager to share their musical accomplishments.
"Society often expects less of urban children, and provides them less of relevance to their development as human beings," Baker said. "With the current focus on standardization, our children are lacking in opportunities to develop into adults who think creatively using skills in teamwork, problem solving, time management, correcting mistakes, listening and goal setting."
Baker notes that the singers have memorized nearly 10 songs representing many languages including Latin, Swedish, French, German, Russian, Turkish, Norwegian, Native American, Hebrew and Italian.
"They understand the texts of the songs they sing and the message they wish to convey through them," she added. "The founders of CCS have seen first-hand the transfer of learning in music into other subject areas and into the fabric of the singers' daily lives. These children are the future of Springfield. They thrive on high expectations and opportunity, and they long for the support of the community in which they reside."