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Advice from a Renowned Choral Master

Speaker on a screen Amherst high school concert chorale students got a “personal” visit from a renowned, Grammy-nominated choral conductor to discuss the genre of African-American spirituals and provide some insights into the spirituals and freedom songs the chorale has been learning.


Dr. Malcolm J. Merriweather, music director of New York City’s The Dessoff Choirs, and assistant professor, director of choral studies and voice department coordinator at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, met virtually with ACHS chorale students on Friday, Jan. 15. Some students were in-person at the high school, others were home for remote learning.


Dr. Merriweather and Justin Pomietlarz, director of choral activities at the high school, have collaborated on past ACHS chorale performances. Amherst students have travelled to New York City and Dr. Merriweather has come to Buffalo to work with students.


“I love choral music and it’s so nice to have a friend (in Justin) who loves choral music as much as I do,” he said.


Teacher at desk Concert chorale students are learning several spirituals, “Soon I Will Be Done with the Troubles of This World” and “Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing”, which the department will produce as a virtual ensemble (band/chorus/orchestra) culminating in a BHM discussion forum with Dr. Merriweather and Buffalo Philharmonic Associate Conductor Jaman E. Dunn in February.


As part of class, chorale students learn about the historical significance of various musical genres. Dr. Merriweather gave them some historical background and insights. Spirituals and freedom songs are a unifying genre that connects us to the struggles in the world, he said.


“The genre is deeply rooted in spirituality, hope and solace in times of fear,” he said. “We have a job as a singer. Our job is to communicate and know what we are singing about.”


Dr. Merriweather, whose bio is extensive, graduated from Grand Island High School, and is an artist in residence at Union Theological Seminary, and the artistic director of “Voices of Haiti,” a 60-member children’s choir in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, operated by the Andrea Bocelli Foundation.