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The Classical Roots Community Mass Choir | Growing a Choir…and a Community


By Meghan Berneking

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Members of the Classical Roots Community Mass Choir performed a combined concert with the Young Professionals’ Choral Collective in October.

For years, members of the Classical Roots Community Mass Choir came together to prepare for and perform one concert every year.  The CSO’s annual Classical Roots concert celebrates the rich African-American musical heritage, bringing together a diverse, city-wide community of music lovers for an uplifting program featuring classical works, spirituals, gospel, jazz and opera. But as Classical Roots has grown in scale and in popularity, so has demand for the Choir to perform more frequently.

“This is an honorable group with so much dedication,” said Geneva Woode, one of the Classical Roots music leaders. “The group itself has slowly increased in size from its beginnings, and I attribute that to their interest in classical music and the spiritual influence of the choral literature.”

The growing size of the Choir has opened up opportunities to perform at other events throughout the year. Last summer, members of the Choir performed with the Cincinnati Pops at Riverbend Music Center as well as at the national Chorus America Conference hosted in Cincinnati. In October, the Choir combined with the Young Professionals’ Choral Collective of Cincinnati for a sublime concert of ancient sacred choral music, spirituals and gospel. Most recently, a collaboration with the Middletown Symphony Orchestra gave singers the opportunity to perform Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. The Choir will also be part of this month’s Holiday Pops concerts at the Taft Theatre.

These added performance opportunities benefit the Choir as well as the community. “There are a lot of talented musicians within the Classical Roots Choir; some read music and others don’t,” said the Choir’s Resident Conductor William Henry Caldwell. “But the more you do it, the more it helps you. These other performances are like exercises, so when it comes time for Classical Roots, learning the music and musicianship is easier and things go more smoothly.”

Mr. Caldwell also points out the versatility of the Classical Roots Community Mass Choir. “These additional performances demonstrate to the community that there is an African-American group that’s capable of singing all periods and styles. Cincinnati is a big gospel town. But with an eclectic group like this we can experiment,” he said.

Just as important as the communal benefits from the Choir’s recent expansion is the impact on the individual singers. Adia Dobbins joined the Choir for Classical Roots 2016 and has been performing in several of the Choir’s other engagements throughout the year. A graduate of the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Adia left Cincinnati in 2003 for New York City where she worked on The Lion King. She spent five years working as a banker before deciding to revisit her background in music. When she moved back to Cincinnati, she attended her first Classical Roots concert in 2015. Adia recognized that it was right up her ally, and she believes her participation in the Choir was crucial to her personal and musical life. “I truly believe that environment and regular schedule of singing inspired me and got me out of a rut. When I think of all the things that have happened to me in the past year, Classical Roots was a real catalyst for that.”

As a longtime solo singer, she was also excited by the opportunity to be part of an ensemble again. “There’s something special about being part of a group—you have to listen to each other, and you see yourself as part of something bigger than yourself,” she said.

This experience is inherent to the nature of choral singing, and those involved in the Classical Roots Choir recognize that collaborations with other ensembles and singers representing a diversity of backgrounds serve as a launch pad for cultural dialogue and understanding.

“What the world needs right now is more unity than divisiveness, and when you’re in your pocket of the world doing things you’re accustomed to you don’t necessarily have the opportunity to try something new,” said Adia. “We need to be experiencing each other’s customs and each other’s lives.”

Classical Roots 2017 will take place at Crossroads Oakley on May 5, and it’s not too late to be part of the Community Mass Choir. Rehearsals begin in January. Contact Charmaine Moore at cmoore@ cincinnatisymphony.org or 513.744.3254 for more information about joining the choir. Classical Roots concert tickets sell out quickly! Purchase tickets at cincinnatisymphony.org/classicalroots or call the CSO Box Office at 513.381.3300.