Singing City Choir

Singing City Choir – “Seven Last Words of the Unarmed”

Philadelphia’s Singing City Choir will perform Joel Thompson’s Seven Last Words of the Unarmed

In the wake of the high-profile police killings of seven Black men, Atlanta-based composer Joel Thompson crafted “Seven Last Words of the Unarmed”. This powerful choral composition was performed on multiple stages across the country and will be performed this weekend by Philadelphia’s premier avocational chorus, Singing City Choir. 

Singing City Choir

In 1948, Dr. Elaine Brown founded the area-based integrated community choir with the goal of bringing people together through music. The 80-member strong chorus is led by Artistic and Music Director Jeffrey Brillhart and continues to fulfill its original mission, which today encompasses an educational program for youth, T-VOCE (Teen Voices of the City Ensemble).

“For 74 years we’ve been in business and continue to be guided by that original mission statement,” said Brillhart. “Our reason for founding informs our repertoire and the decisions we make around where we travel for choir tours and has kept us together. I will say that it’s kinda sad that there’s still a need for a choir like this, but in some ways, America seems more divided now than it was in those times.” 

“Seven Last Words of the Unarmed” premiered in November 2015, and consists of seven movements that contain the last words of Kenneth Chamberlain, 68; Trayvon Martin, 17; Michael Brown, 18; Oscar Grant, 22; John Crawford, 22; and Eric Garner, 43 — all Black men who were unarmed at the time of their deaths. A renewed interest in it arose after the murder of George Floyd in 2020 and the subsequent protests and outbreak of police violence.

Singing City Choir

“It’s a rather brave and controversial piece,” explained Brillhart. “Some people view it as an anti-police work, which it really isn’t because that wasn’t his intent and it really isn’t the message. It’s more about the importance of remembering and not forgetting these young men who died. It’s also in a way challenging us to be better people to do whatever we can to keep this from happening again.”

In addition to youth education programs and music initiatives that bring music to Philadelphia’s neighborhoods, the Singing City Choir is deeply committed to inclusion and community. Brillhart believes the creative community can help make a difference, even as Philadelphia continues to struggle with poverty, litter, drug abuse, murders, and other grim social ills even as it recovers from the Covid pandemic.

Brillhart added: “I just want to be hopeful that Philadelphia can somehow or another turn a corner from the level of violence, trash, public school absenteeism — and broken hearts.”

Singing City Choir

“Seven Last Words of the Unarmed” is featured during the Singing City Choir Winter Concert – Learn to Walk Together – presenting the world premiere of A New Day is Rising by Ethan Haman set to poetry by Philadelphia’s Youth Poet Laureate Cydney Brown — on Saturday, March 5, 2022, at 7 p.m. at the Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral, 13 N. 38th Street, Philadelphia, PA. There will also be a quilt exhibit by members of the Women of Color Quilters Network.

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