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Unity through song

Classical concert celebrates community voices

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Unity through song
Singers with the Handel and Haydn Society at the First Church of Roxbury. Photo: Lara Silberklang

Last weekend, Nov. 3 and 4, The Handel and Haydn Society hosted its “Every Voice: A Celebration of Our Community” concert in partnership with the Unitarian Universalist Urban Ministry (UUUM) and Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción. The concert, conducted by Reginald L. Mobley and assisted by conductor Dr. Jennifer Kane, took place at the First Church in Roxbury on Saturday and the Union United Methodist Church in the South End on Sunday.

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Singers with the Handel and Haydn Society at the First Church of Roxbury. Photo: Lara Silberklang

Singers with the Handel and Haydn Society at the First Church of Roxbury. Photo: Lara Silberklang

This was the third year Handel and Haydn has sponsored community concerts under the “Every Voice” name, but it was the first year with two locations. The concerts are meant to bring the community together while celebrating underserved groups. Last year the focus was women, black Americans and children. This year Latinx, LGBTQ and veteran voices were lifted.

The celebration manifested itself in the program. For example, the work of Wilfred Owen, a sergeant in the British Army and a poet, was performed as a salute to veterans. The concert of early and modern music was split into three sections, and each group was exalted through music and spoken word.

“I would like to dispel the notion in this country that classical music is for old, wealthy white people,” says Mobley. “More than anything I think this is the music of the people, because sound can’t be owned.”

This concert is just one of many cultural programs held in the First Church of Roxbury’s Meetinghouse. The structure is the oldest surviving wood frame church in Boston and stands on a site that hosted a worshipping congregation from 1631-1976. The Unitarian Universalist Urban Ministry moved in and took over care of the property 15 years ago.

The Meetinghouse, which historically served as both a worship space and a civic hall, has undergone major exterior renovations and the UUUM is planning for interior renovations in the future.

“Our vision has been transforming it into a true meetinghouse for the Roxbury community,” says Reverend Mary Margaret Earl. “We’re continuously having cultural events that benefit the community.”

The Meetinghouse has a strong historical significance. Famous abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison and suffragette Lucy Stone appeared there for multiple speeches, and Garrison’s funeral was held there. With history in mind, Mobley says that in 2016, just before the divisive presidential election, he changed the theme of the concert to “Requiem for Division.” He says, “We decided to have one more funeral in the space. We put rest to the idea of division. It was then that I felt the bones of this place, standing at the same pulpit as William Lloyd Garrison.”

Mobley and Earl hope the Handel and Haydn Society concert, and future programming, serves to restore the community connection that the Meetinghouse was built to foster.

“If an audience member leaves not just entertained but interested in learning more about this history that’s in their backyard,” Mobley says, “then I’m happy.”

Information about the Meetinghouse restoration: