New directions, key connections in MSO’s Symphony in the Community

Symphony in the Community MSO concert at Cade Chapel MB Church

MSO’s 79th season sees its Matinee Series occupying a more formal spot on the 2023-24 lineup, with fall and spring “Symphony in the Community” concerts that reach directly into Cade Chapel’s west Jackson neighborhood and forge ties with Jackson artists and the music they create right here in the capital city.

Engaging, informal and on a contribute-as-you-can basis, the matinees provide the format for a concert plus conversation, and the chance to find out not just more about the music, but more about each other. The fall concert — 3 p.m. Sunday, October 29, at Cade Chapel Missionary Baptist Church — wraps in classical, folk/soul and hip hop music, as well as poetry and a rousing finale that knits together gospel inspiration and musical theater delight.

Selections from Nigerian composer Fela Sowande’s African Suite for Strings and Harp, and Mozart’s Adagio from Serenade No. 10 are the classical elements in this thoughtfully curated program.

Fresh contemporary voices chime in with songs by Jackson singer/songwriter Teneia Sanders and Jackson hip hop artist 5th Child, composer Jessie Montgomery’s Strum performed by the Mississippi Symphony String Quartet and readings of Alice Walker and Sonia Sanchez poems by Jackson poet Amanda Furdge. The poems on the program are in recognition of Jackson State University’s Phillis Wheatley Poetry Festival, marking its 50th anniversary this year in the week following this concert, November 1-4 (with Walker and Sanchez among the marquee poets in attendance).

That makes this matinee a celebration resonating with local creativity and achievement, and also marks Jackson as a vibrant spot in the larger artistic landscape. Bring that all home with the fervent spirit of “Walk Him Up” from Gary Geld and Ossie Davis’ Purlie, with Cade Chapel Choir, Sanders and 5th Child, at the concert’s close, and it’s really something to praise.

From dream-come-true collaborations between MSO and local artists to selections highlighting African and African-American compositions and poetry, the concert is particularly relevant to the church’s location and the community it serves. This hand-in-hand project, the shared vision of MSO Conductor and Music Director Crafton Beck and Cade Chapel’s Rev. Reginald Buckley, lays a foundation, too, for connection that reaches warmly across historical divides, brings communities together through music, and nurtures a wider audiences for musical genres both old and new.

Sanders recalls the buzz surrounding the project’s start last season, the crowd that greeted it, and the joy they took from it. She did, too. “MSO hadn’t really featured a lot of Black female composers, so for me to be able to really collaborate and create something new with them is just so fun!

“As an artist, you have an idea around the song, and you want to know what it would sound like with an orchestra.” Sanders says. “For me to have that opportunity, I was just in awe for days afterward.”

The experience also hit an artistic peak for Jackson-based artist 5th Child. “As far as the style of hip hop that I do, there’s a lot of orchestration. It’s just digital production though, so this is more so the way it was intended to sound.”

The series itself presents a wide-open horizon of possibility for MSO. “It allows us the opportunity to present even more of a kaleidoscope of music than we can on our Bravo and Chamber series, and a kaleidoscope of artists,” says MSO President and Executive Director Jenny Mann. “It allows us to reflect our community in a different way, and in a very unique way, that is driven by the state of Mississippi itself.”

“In many ways, this is the model for our future, in the sense that it’s us, getting out of Thalia Mara Hall and getting into the community, the way we’ve always done for our Chamber Series,” says MSO Conductor and Music Director Crafton Beck. MSO’s more intimate concerts reach audiences close-up, at churches and college venues around town.

“We need to expand that,” Beck says. “We have little presence in many areas of our wider community, and establishing Cade Chapel as a new home represents that new growth for us. Expect more such outreach, to improve MSO’s satellite reach around the city, and to find and create ways to engage different communities, while still maintaining MSO’s core traditional draw.”

“We’ll continue to do everything we do at Thalia Mara Hall. But, this all represents new communities, new neighborhoods, new audiences for us, and serving those respective audiences in a better, more specific way,” Beck says.

It’s a more forward-looking, community-rooted view. “We don’t see ourselves as just an old-fashioned classical European symphony orchestra. We are the flagship ensemble for the state of Mississippi.”