New African American choir builds bridges to preserve and celebrate musical heritage

Darrick King, director of the new African American Choral Ensemble. Above: New Horizons Choir performs at its 40th anniversary reunion concert in 2016. Photo by 421 Studios.

When the music department’s new African American Choral Ensemble begins rehearsing in the spring, its director Darrick King hopes to build a community where people from all different backgrounds, ways of life and ethnicities can appreciate, learn about and perform music from the African American culture.

There is no audition required to join the choir and anyone – both NC State students and members of the local community – is welcome. King stressed that it is open to all. “I think it’s important to have students and community members just to emphasize that this is music that’s out there for everyone,” said King. “There’s no real requirements or skill level necessary, so I think having community members will help promote that sense of everyone’s welcomed and we’re all connected.”

In addition to this new role at NC State, King is the director of choral activities at Southeast Raleigh Magnet High School as well as the music director for Windborne United Methodist Church.

The choir is building on the foundation of NC State’s former New Horizons Choir, founded in 1977 by faculty member Eleania Ward and then-student Ron Foreman, who eventually became the choir’s director and now works with University Theatre. Since the end of New Horizons there has not been an ensemble within the Department of Music that focused on music of the African diaspora. King and department head Dr. Daniel Monek hope the new ensemble will build bridges between NC State and the greater Raleigh community, as well as between students’ music-making interests and what’s available to them in the curriculum on campus.

“Part of it is the preservation of music that is less frequently performed but is integral to our heritage and culture as a country. This was begun by Eleania and Ron in New Horizons as they introduced students to the rich tradition of spirituals that were being performed less frequently and at risk of being lost,” said Monek. “There’s still a great deal of wonderful music in the diaspora that is not being programmed and that many performers have yet to experience. I think it’s essential that we provide the opportunity for that to happen.”

In addition to traditional and contemporary gospel music and spirituals, the new ensemble will explore folk music, choral works by composers of African descent and contemporary music from the African American culture.

The curricular goals surrounding the music are only one piece of what King hopes the new ensemble will provide for participants. “As an educator, I hope people would take away the sense of community that comes from being a part of a choral group – the sense of family that comes with it – and really that all kinds of music are for all kinds of people,” said King.

To join the choir, students should register for MUS 116. Interested community members can email King at djking4@ncsu.edu. The choir rehearses on Tuesday nights from 7:30-9:20 p.m. in Price Music Center.