Durham choirs unite for Black History Month concert

NCCU Choir director Roberta Laws instructs her students, accompanied on the piano by retired music professor and NCCU alumnus Grover Wilson. Laws arrived at NCCU as a voice professor in 2014 and took over the University Choir in 2015. (Staff photo by Andrew Dundas)

Dreaming of a better world and realizing it through unity; that is the theme of the upcoming collaborative concert between North Carolina Central University Choir and the Choral Society of Durham Chamber Choir.

There will be two performances and admission is free to both, according to NCCU Choir Director Roberta Laws. The first will be held Friday Feb. 21 at 7 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church, 305 E. Main St. The second takes place Saturday Feb. 22 at 4 p.m. at University United Methodist, 150 E. Franklin St., Chapel Hill.

Laws said, “We wanted to talk about unity. We wanted to talk about hope and dreams and love.”

The concert is titled “Together We Dream” and includes a variety of music, including spirituals, hymns and choral arrangements from poems. The concert will also feature a cello performance from Dr. Timothy Holley of NCCU.

Rodney Wynkoop leads a rehearsal between the Choral Society of Durham Chamber Choir and the NCCU Choir days before their two concerts. (Staff photo by Andrew Dundas)

Laws said she worked with the conductor of the Choral Society of Durham, Rodney Wynkoop, through the summer and fall of last year to bring their choirs together for a celebration of Black History Month.

Durham has divisions, Wynkoop said, and his choir, mostly white, middle class and older than the NCCU Choir, is just one side of the city.

He continued, “the Choral Society in general is really dedicated and determined to reach out into our community and find ways to find commonality.”

The concert has two halves and a theme for each. Laws said the first part of the concert is about the bondage of all people to what’s going on in the world and aspiring to do better.

The second half of the concert is about deliverance and freedom from that bondage.

“How do we do that?” Laws said. “We do that through unity.”

Mykah Hutton is one of Laws’ students and a member of the NCCU Choir. She said this collaboration will allow the community to understand both black choirs and mostly white choirs better.

Hutton said, “I think this collaboration is important to offer perspective on both sides of PWI (predominantly white institution) choirs and HBCU choirs. For the community to see that HBCU choirs are bigger than we think, bigger than what they seemed to be, that we have a wider range of ability than what’s given to us and vice versa for PWI choirs as well, just to bring us together and to offer new energy and new perspectives.”

Sara Miller joined the Choral Society over 30 years ago. She said the collaboration is an outreach amidst a community in turmoil.

Miller said, “Collaboration puts faces to the things you see on the news.”

Laws said that black choirs can sing more than just spirituals and white choirs can sing more than just the classics.

She said, “The students need to know and the community needs to know, that we sing all genres of music and that they all have worth. And that our students are capable of doing such.”

Wynkoop said the concerts are being held in downtown Durham and Chapel Hill, instead of a university campus, to be closer to the community.

“Part of my mission here,” Laws said, “has been to get the choir back into the community.”

She said she has focused on the NCCU Choir engaging with the community, social justice and civil rights.

“We will perform for various events and causes,” she said, “we are a choir that sings just a plethora of types of different types of music.”

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