Music of Social Change Inspires PSU Chorale

Through love, only,
We will conquer everything,
All situations,
Cannot swallow (devour) us.
Let us open our hearts,
And let us fear nothing.

Ngothando, a South African Zulu composition, speaks of the power of love to conquer the barriers that stand between us and the poverty and disease that surround us, and to not fear the unknown. Its powerful and resonant message is uniting Plymouth State students in song.

The piece will be one of many highlights of an upcoming virtual concert, How Can I Keep from Singing?, featuring PSU’s Chorale and Concert Band—an event devoted to the music of social change. Students are rehearsing and practicing this semester under the guidance of new faculty members Harmony Markey, director of choirs, and Jared Staub, director of bands.

Harmony Markey, director of choirs

Markey joined the faculty this fall after directing the music program for many years at Moultonborough Academy, a public secondary school in the Lakes Region. She was well versed in the University’s offerings through field trips and competitions with her students, some of whom she has reconnected with at PSU, and collaborations with Dan Perkins, the now retired longtime chorale director.

Ngothando is a wonderful anthem for what’s happening in our community,” says Markey. “Students came back to Plymouth with a lot of hope and love, and they came back because they really want to be here. ‘We can’t be swallowed’ really speaks to that.”

In addition, six groups of Chorale students have chosen meaningful periods of social change, and their soundtrack will accompany related video segments. Zoom breakout rooms are virtually connecting students as the remotely plan and rehearse.

“With all that’s happening in our world, it’s definitely on the radar for students,” says Markey. “Music fuels a huge part of movements of social change, and this gives students the opportunity to break up into small groups and use their strengths to create a piece of musical art.”

“Music has so been crucial to social movements, especially those in the United States,” agrees group leader Ethan Pruett ’22. “So many famous artists and bands have composed songs that have moved entire generations to act.”

Pruett’s group is discussing the current social movements and protests in Hong Kong. “We decided that this topic was one that had received less media coverage lately and was not far removed from our own experiences here in the US,” he says.

“Music is one of the only universal languages we have,” adds Logan Cormier ’22. “It’s been used for social change and in protests for as long as they’ve existed, and I think it creates a sense of unity and connection that we would lack otherwise. Music has always been important part of my life, so I am eager to use this form of expression toward a greater good and hopefully make a positive impact on others along the way.”

Cormier’s group is focusing on the Civil Rights movement and the current Black Lives Matter movement, as is Erika O’Brien’s group. “We feel it is one of the most significant social movements in today’s society,” says O’Brien ’22. “We are so proud of our generation for pushing social change and not accepting anything less. Putting together a virtual presentation to support the movement is such an amazing opportunity and I hope that our presentation can highlight it and even help put things into perspective for those who may not understand the importance.”

Other Chorale groups are exploring LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights, and the antiwar/Vietnam era.

Individual talents are sometimes sidelined in group projects, so Markey is emphasizing inclusion. “PSU’s Chorale isn’t all made up of all music majors, and group leaders are doing a really great job capitalizing on people’s strengths,” she says. “For example, one group includes a dancer and its plan is to have her do some movement in the visual presentation.”

A traditional hymn provides the concert title and will also be its closing number.

Through all the tumult and the strife,
I hear the music ringing
It finds an echo in my soul —
How can I keep from singing?

How Can I Keep from Singing? will be streamed live on Monday, November 23, 7 p.m., via the Silver Center for the Arts website.