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Be not afraid

First Night Jubilee concert celebrates hope

Celina Colby
Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Be not afraid
Handel and Haydn Society singers. (Photo: Kathy Whitman)

On Sunday, Dec. 31, at 2 p.m. in Trinity Church, the Handel and Haydn Society will perform its annual Jubilee Day concert, celebrating the anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Presented in conjunction with the Museum of African American History, the performance will feature music by Mendelssohn, Bach, and Handel and readings from the proclamation by Poetry Slam Individual Champion Regie Gibson.

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The one-hour performance at Trinity Church in Boston is free and seating is on a first come, first served basis. Conductor Scott Allen Jarrett says the performance recounts events of the original Jubilee celebration. “This year I wanted to draw on the main theme in [Mendelssohn’s] ‘Elijah,’ which is ‘Be not afraid,’” says Jarrett. “We’re connecting our art and our music with the struggle that we’re still facing.”

Hope and history

Gibson similarly emphasizes the themes of hope. He notes that famous speeches from Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr. and others speak to the past, present and future, and there is always an emphasis on what’s to come and what can be done to shape it. “America finds itself at a crossroads,” says Gibson. “Many of the elements in the Emancipation Proclamation are still relevant. We have to be reminded of where we came from.”

The Handel and Haydn Society was founded in Boston in 1815 and is the oldest continually performing arts organization in the United States. The original mission to celebrate and perform the works of eminent classical composers has expanded to include community education and involvement. In addition to music education for children and students, the company provides accessible concerts at the Boston Public Library, the Museum of African American History and other venues throughout the year.

Regie Gibson is a poet, author, songwriter and educator who has performed and taught in seven countries over two continents. He was selected for the Chicago Tribune’s Artist of the Year for Excellence award in poetry and has appeared on HBO’s “Def Poetry Jam.” Gibson has worked extensively with the Museum of African American History to bring contemporary, accessible art performances to the public. “We use art as a way to contextualize history. Art shows us that we are more than meat,” he says.

“Jubilee” isn’t the last opportunity to experience these artists in the coming year. Gibson will be performing with his multicultural world music band, “Atlas Soul,” at the Regattabar in the Charles Hotel in Cambridge on Jan. 19, 2018. The Handel and Haydn season continues through May 2018 with concerts at Symphony Hall and New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall.

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