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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

99 musicians 1 tap dancer

Three of Grinnell’s top musical groups—the Grinnell Jazz Ensemble, the Grinnell Oratorio Society and the Grinnell Singers—will be performing three of Duke Ellington’s best pieces this weekend.  “Duke Ellington’s Sacred Concerts,” a combination of the jazz legend’s religious concerts, premiers on Friday, April 20th at 7:30 p.m. in Sebring-Lewis Hall.

Bassist Christopher Johnson of Ames, Iowa and soprano Grinnellian Graciela Guzman ’11, who majored in anthropology but is pursuing a career in music, will be featured as soloists.  A tap performer from the University of Iowa, John Cumming-Meininger IV, will also be performing.

“It’s a really special and wonderful opportunity for the choirs,” said Professor John Rommereim, who is the director of the Oratorio Society and the Singers. “They don’t often get to collaborate with the jazz band, so it’s a great thing to bring together the band, the choir, the soloist, and in this case also a tap dancer.  In my experience, this is the only time I’ve been able to perform a choral piece with a tap dancer.”

Rommereim will be directing the portions of the show most difficult for singers, while Assistant Professor Damani Phillips will be directing the Jazz Ensemble. Learning and performing Ellington’s pieces together has proven to be a rewarding experience.

“A couple of sections are spoken in rhythm,” Rommereim said.  “The challenge is to get a choral reading kind of effect, when people speak rhythmically but expressively, so it is a convincing effect.  It’s a different mode, but it’s very fun.  The text of the piece is just so clever and refreshing.”

This weekend will not just be difficult musically; it will be organizationally challenging, as well.  On Sunday, the groups will take the show on the road to Des Moines for a performance at St. John’s Lutheran Church at 4:00pm.  Combined, there are over 90 members to move, as well as musical equipment and a tap stage.  The effort has proven to be a logistical challenge, but the choirs and band anticipate a warm reception.

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