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You Shall Speak: A Letter From Our Director

Dear GSO Patron,

I’m so honored to join the GSO community in time for our first classics concert of 2023.

The GSO’s Classic Series Concert for February titled “You Shall Hear…” features the works of composers Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Florence Price, and Atlanta’s own Okorie “OkCello” Johnson, in collaboration with our own Artistic Director, Timothy Verville

Inspired by the opening lines of Coleridge-Taylor’s Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, “You Shall Hear” presents a unique opportunity to listen to voices that have been historically under-amplified and to hear from new voices that are crossing genres to tell the Black experience in new and exciting ways. While we want to embrace and honor the work of amazing black artists every day, Black History month is an opportunity to celebrate and center these voices. 

Coleridge-Taylor wrote that “I want to be nothing in the world except what I am – a musician.” He interpreted his distinctiveness through his talent, not his skin color. But his birth father’s origin in Sierra Leone inclined him toward a fascination with other cultures: African, Native American, and even Norse and Japanese.

Florence Price found unlikely success for her time as the first African-American woman widely recognized as a symphonic composer and the head of the music department at what is now Clark Atlanta University. But her music was almost erased largely on account of her race and gender. 

Okorie “OkCello” Johnson speaks with a voice that is wholly unique and genre-defying. In Liminal: an Atlanta Concerto, he and Timothy Verville explore what contemporary African Diasporic stories and song forms sound like when amplified by the full forces of an orchestra. 

The music of February’s concert runs the gamut of forms and sonorities but is unified by its desire to invite the listener to hear something new. A new composer. A new story. A new song. A new voice. 

This month we’ll be centering the conversation around the voices of black artists and performers in a weekly series we’re calling “You Shall Speak…” This will be an opportunity for all of us to listen and learn as we uplift the experiences of these inspiring artists. I’ll be eagerly listening to each new voice and I hope you’ll join me in reading and sharing these stories. 

All of this will culminate in our February 25 & 26 performance of “You Shall Hear…” featuring the You Shall See Marketplace, a lobby experience highlighting black-owned businesses and artisans. Go ahead and secure your tickets now. You don’t want to miss this. 

The text of Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast was taken from Longfellow’s poem The Song of Hiawatha. It includes this phrase: How by struggle and by labor you have found what you have prayed for.  From Coleridge-Taylor to Price to Johnson, it is not hard to see the arc of progress that many have prayed for. While we all know that there is much work still to be done, I can’t help but feel hopeful when I hear the infectious and soulful music like that of Okorie Johnson and thousands of other extraordinary black performers and composers finally being celebrated for being authentically and fully themselves. For being nothing in the world except what they are. 

I hope to see you at our concert!





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