The Michigan State University Jazz Orchestra II performed its annual Martin Luther King Jr concert at the Fairchild Theatre on Sunday. The concert, apart of MSU's 43rd annual MLK celebration, featured music from the orchestra along with guest musicians and vocalists to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy.
Special guest conductor Kristopher Johnson has been involved in the making of the annual MLK concerts since 2002, when he was a sophomore at MSU. According to Johnson, the event touches on King's legacy.
“It’s a really important event, to be able to not only reflect on the past, but also think about how his teachings," Johnson said. "Specifically on the intersection between his teachings and the music of the African American community and ways that we can learn about ourselves ... and really make sure we're having meaningful dialogue.”
The theme of the concert was ‘Jazz: Spirituals, Prayer and Protest,’ a concept that was delivered by the musicians and vocalists through music and speech.
Jazz vocalist Tiffany Gridiron performed ‘If I Can Help Somebody’ by Alma Bazel Androzzo, a song she says MLK identified as one of his favorites and how he wanted his legacy to be remembered.
“It was one of Martin Luther King’s favorite songs," Gridiron said. “He actually quoted it in a speech that he gave two months before he was assassinated, where he was seeing that it was possible that the end was coming and thinking about how he wanted to be remembered.”
Gridiron said she hopes that the audience takes away a connection to the shared human experience. She wanted viewers to be immersed in beauty and see themselves in the performers.
“That helps us to move forward because I see you in me, I see myself in you, and you and me," Gridiron said. "What we can do for one another enhances all of us ... We want to maximize joy and we want to connect in pain. We don’t want to be alone in pain.”
Jazz vocalist Lulu Fall performed ‘No One Even Cares,’ a song that she wrote with Johnson. Fall describes it as a glimpse into her experiences as a Black woman.
“It’s as much as I can give a glimpse into my lens as it relates to being Black, being a woman and because of my skin color, automatically being stereotyped and put in a box and therefore severely prejudiced against,” said Fall. “And of course, we’ve all seen it for decades, upon decades, upon decades, where simply because you’re Black, you are discriminated against, you are violated, you are brutalized, you’re killed, which is all of the things I want to shed light, in love, to these very, very, very hard subjects.”
Fall said that although hearing about these hard subjects through music may be difficult for the audience, she hopes that the performance will help people understand the struggles discussed in the music.
Though sometimes people want to escape reality when they go to a concert, for Fall, music is an extension of experiences.
“I really hope that, in addition to celebrating Black music and Black joy and Black love, people will understand that there’s love,” Fall said. “But there’s also this unfortunate perpetual struggle that Black people will always have and this particular song just sheds light on that.”
Johnson, an alumni of MSU's Jazz program, said his connection to the program and relationship with the other performers, particularly his former mentee Director Anthony Stanco, makes this concert a special experience for him.
Stanco also hoped the relationship between students and teachers was evident throughout the performance.
“I hope they (the audience) loved it," Stanco said. "I think you could see tonight, the levels of a student to teacher relationships and I think that was really special.”
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