BLOOMINGDALE, Ga. (WSAV) — A local high school choir is learning about the significance of music from the civil rights era while bringing those songs to life.
From their homes, New Hampstead High School’s Rising Flame choral performers recently delivered a virtual rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” known as the Black national anthem.
The song is the first of their three-part Black History Month Virtual Performance Series, says choral and musical theatre director Brittny Woods.
“We have James Baldwin, we’ve also got Langston Hughes and we have students that are portraying these historical figures and giving insight to their experience here in America,” said the instructor, who has taught music for over a decade.
The third performance, which will be “We Shall Overcome,” will feature a collaboration between choirs from New Hampstead High School and West Chatham Middle School.
Woods says music has often played an integral role in the lives of people of color throughout their “rich” history.
“Those spirituals tell their story, and we know for a fact that these songs were of hope,” she said. “They had secret messages of escape, but that was their way of dealing with their struggle but seeing beyond what it was they were experiencing.”
Throughout Black History Month, Woods has taught her students about the important link between music and Black history. They’ve also discussed the topic in context with the recent protests.
“What we saw with the pandemic and everything that happened in 2020, these students were witnessing these protests in the comfort of their homes, but not feeling comforted at all in what they saw,” Woods said.
“We’ve had very extensive discussions on these protests, racial inequality and social injustice,” she said. “Music has been that vehicle for which we can have these conversations, and understanding its importance to history and culture.”
Woods says she’s noticed the music seems to have resonated on some level with her singers; she can hear it in their performances.
“The faith of our ancestors and everything that they experienced, the music is what brought them through that,” Woods said.
“When the students are singing those lyrics and those words, and when I watch their videos of them just kind of, like, feeling the music, I feel like they have that connection and understanding that even though that was in the past, we’re still dealing with some of those issues today,” she added.
Woods had the students submit their recordings individually to create the group virtual performance videos, which she then edited together.
The choral director says she’s proud of her students for rising to the challenge of a new way of performing, but she looks forward to sharing her music room with her students again in the near future.
“When everybody’s together, the energy in the room is just so much fun, but having them do it virtually, we are having to meet this moment,” Woods said.
“It has been tough, but it’s also been rewarding,” she added.
View the Rising Flame Chorus’s performance of ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ by watching the video at the top of this story.