University of West Florida celebrates the Negro Spiritual tradition

By Wesley Martin

On Monday, The University of West Florida Singers and Madrigals held their Annual Black History Month Concert at the Center for Fine and Performing Arts.
This year, many selections seemed to blend older Negro spirituals with newer contemporary pieces.

Jerre Brisky, assistant director of the CFPA, says this event communicates history and culture to those outside of the African American experience.

“We really try to honor and celebrate a musical style that’s truly American that’s truly grown and that’s apart of the American experience,” Brisky said. “With February being black history month, it’s a great way to concentrate celebrate this extremely important part of musical history.”

(Photo by Wesley Martin) Leo Day leads in celebration
Blake Riley, professor and director of choirs at UWF, said Negro spirituals are important because of its musical legacy.

“Many times, [the genre] is overlooked because it falls between the boundaries of gospel music and classical music. But it’s infectious. Anybody who hears it is drawn to it.”

Riley says that Guest Conductor Dr. Gary Packwood helped students identify with the tone and feel of the musical selections. Also, Riley said Packwood enlightened the students on distinct cultural norms associated with the genre.

“You have to get the students used to moving when they sing,” he said. “With African Americans, especially in the church, you have to move when they sing … we just had to get them out of their box.”

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