Black History Month Choral Clinic


In honor of Black History Month, the choir is holding a Black History Month Concert on Wednesday, Feb. 16. The concert choir, madrigals and chamber choir are singing songs written and composed by African American musicians, or songs that have some relation to Black history or oppression. The choir hopes this continues to be an annual tradition, with this being the second year in a row that the concert has been performed. This year’s concert is extra special due to its commissioned piece by renowned African American composer, Dr. Rollo Dilworth.

Choir director Mrs. Lagan said, “I applied for a grant through HHEF; I really wanted to have a chance to leave a legacy through a commissioned work.”

When writing the grant last March, Mrs. Lagan had reached out to Dr. Dilworth to see if he would be interested in doing both a commission and clinic at our school.

Mrs. Lagan said, “I think it’s an invaluable experience to get to work with the composer of a piece you’re singing, and I wanted my students to have the opportunity to work with a world-famous composer! Not many choirs get to ‘world premiere’ a piece of music, especially one with a text written by an HH faculty.” 

The song, “One Voice,” was written by one of our own–Mrs. Willeena Booker, a poet and first grade teacher at Hallowell. She explained that her way for getting through tough times is poetry, and she thought that writing a piece for BHM would be a great way to channel her talents.

She said, “When the world began to change with George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement, my writing started embracing race. I wanted to write from the perspective of a Black female raising Black daughters. Rather than just reacting and responding to the attacks, I wanted to act.”

Mrs. Booker explaining her song, “One Voice.”

However, it wasn’t just the African American struggle that provoked her to touch on such subjects – it was the overall racial struggle. When talk of Asian hate began to surface, she said that she was hit again.

“Both communities are hurting,” she said. “My daughters and I went to a parade against such hate, and it was so uplifting. It was a healing moment in that the community had come together to resolve conflicts. Some people would say that we have our struggle, and they have their struggle, but I disagree. We need to join together and fight racism, which is the theme of my writing – building community and catalytic love.”

“I saw the community coming together at a time when the nation was hurting. I felt the strength and love of this community and I poured those feelings of love into writing the poem.”

She explained that her inspiration was from posters she made with her kids. They had written, “One Heart, One Mind, One Voice” – from there, her poem “One Voice” was born. 

Every line of the poem is thoughtfully written with a message behind it. One particularly potent line says, “I’m standing for you, the red, white and blue. You matter to me, black, red and the green.” Mrs. Booker stressed that “Black history is American history. Black Lives Matter is not unpatriotic. It is all in an effort to make a stronger America.”

Senior choir member Katelyn Santiago said, “‘One Voice’ is such a powerful song. Mrs. Booker is a very talented poet. ‘Hand in hand, united we stand, one message of love will heal this land,’ describes the unity and power of this song. It brings people together. And the composition of music from Rollo Dilworth makes the song absolutely perfect.”

On Friday, Feb. 4, Dr. Dilworth came to work with the choir during HATS and fourth period. Mrs. Booker also came to hear her words in the form of music for the first time.

Mrs. Booker said, “It was incredible to hear the choir sing my poem. I simply can’t put into words how honored, valued and respected I felt-knowing that Dr. Dilworth created the most beautiful arrangements and melodies to align with the exact sentiments of my words. Hearing students sing those words and sentiments into the hearts of the world was simply electrifying!”

Students were touched by Mrs. Booker’s reaction.

Junior Jocelyn Daniels said, “Seeing Mrs. Booker’s reaction to the song was so heartwarming. It was nice to feel that personal connection through the music. I kept looking over at her and seeing her throw her hands up and smile, and I thought she would cry. It made me really happy to perform something that made her proud.”

The choir students agree that the clinic with Dr. Dilworth was a great learning experience. He conducted “One Voice,” explained his composing process and gave the students tips on musicality for each of the songs they performed for him.

Dr. Dilworth directing singers.

Junior Kaitlyn Harrington said, “Singing a song by Dr. Dilworth has been an incredible experience. I and many of my peers are so grateful for the opportunity to be the first to perform ‘One Voice’. If that wasn’t enough, working with him in person was incredible. The improvement our choir showed during the time he spent with us was truly unbelievable and only helped us all realize what an incredible musician Dr. Dilworth is.”

Junior Danielle Nugent said, “It was incredible to work with Dr. Dilworth. It is clear he loves what he does and seeing his passion for music made me appreciate the songs he had written even more.”

In a Q and A, Mrs. Booker explained what motivated to write. 

She said, “I am motivated that I am doing what I love to do and the hope that my art will be of service to hope and humanity.”

In response, Danielle said, “I am honored to sing a song about standing for injustice and about the community coming together. The lyrics and the song together, and the ability to meet Dr. Dilworth made me proud to be a part of HH and the choir program as a whole.”

Ending with the song, “We Shall Overcome,” written by Pete Seeger and the civil rights movement anthem, the choir plans on leaving the audience full of optimism and love.