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Lift every voice and sing

This year’s Jubilee Day Concert celebrates the 14th amendment

Celina Colby
Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Lift every voice and sing
The Handel and Haydn Society’s Jubilee Day Concert includes selections from Mendelssohn, Handel and 19th century African American composer Harry T. Burleigh. Photo: Courtesy Handel and Haydn Society

On Dec. 31, the Handel and Haydn Society and the Museum of African American History (MAAH) will produce their seventh annual Jubilee Day Concert celebrating the anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. As part of the First Night activities, the concert will take place in Trinity Church.

“I try to always look at our archives and see what music was performed in 1865, when H&H musicians originally celebrated Jubilee,” says conductor Scott Allen Jarrett. This year he chose excerpts from Mendelssohn’s “Saint Paul,” and Handel’s “Judas Maccabeus,” which tells the story of the first Hanukkah celebration. Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas” will also make an appearance, a little preview of the full score, which will be performed later in H&H’s 2018–2019 season.

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The musical program will be rounded out with a spiritual arranged by Harry T. Burleigh. “He was one of the first African American musicians to be welcomed into the scene at the time,” says Jarrett. It will also include music traditional to the event, like “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” and “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” which was written by Julia Ward Howe, a soprano who sang with H&H in the 19th century. Poet and performer Regie Gibson will read from the Emancipation Proclamation to top off the hour-long performance.

“What I hope our audience will recognize is that throughout H&H’s history, we have used this music to reflect our current times. It was true in 1863 and it’s true now,” says Jarrett. Each year that the concert has occurred, the MAAH has centered it on what was going on in the corresponding year in history. This year the event will explore the 14th Amendment, passed in 1868, which formally defined citizenship and the rights therein. This is particularly timely, as what it means to be a citizen of the United States is continually explored on the contemporary political stage. 

Jarrett says the power of the event is evidenced by how much it has grown. The initial Jubilee concert was performed in the African Meeting House in Beacon Hill to a crowd of 200 people. Since then the concert has moved to the Back Bay and ultimately to Trinity Church to accommodate the growing crowd. The concert is free, but seats are first come, first served, so it’s recommended that audience members arrive early.

“I think it’s very special to our audience members to be able to connect with the history of civil rights in this country,” Jarrett says.

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