For many, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is a true day of freedom – no work, no classes, no commitments. However, on Jan. 17, the Eastman School of Music took a few minutes to recognize what Martin Luther King, Jr. Day means, and as always, added an artistic spin with an innovative concert titled “Let Freedom Ring,” in Kilbourn Hall.
Eastman percussionist Colin Tribby grew up in a liberal family in the South. He was aware of racial boundaries, but couldn’t accept their existence.
After hearing the album “Chattahoochee Red,” where the jazz drummer Max Roach, who grew up in the turbulence of the civil rights movement, plays a free form solo over excerpts from King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Tribby was intrigued with the message of the speech, its inherent rhythm and musical frame and how the rhythmic accompaniment accentuated the delivery of the message.
Tribby wanted to take those ideas and give them his individual touch. He envisioned using King’s entire speech with a multitude of percussionists to create a unison groove – the way King’s speech unified the country.
In addition, he wanted the performance to represent unity for all different nationalities by including students of international backgrounds to say “let freedom ring” in their respective languages throughout the hall.
“It was an easy marriage of text and music because of how [King] phrased and cadenced his speech. I love how it came out. Everyone was so dedicated to the project,” Tribby said.
The Rev. Alvin Parris read King’s speech, while 13 percussionists from jazz and classical backgrounds, also including both students and faculty, created an inspirational setting with their unison drum set groove.
When the words “let freedom ring” sounded, a combination of cymbals and gongs brought them to life.
The international speakers were placed throughout the audience, which helped to show that although from different backgrounds, everyone gathered as one for the concert.
Also, the presence of the Rochester community in the audience was particularly inspiring.
Tribby, having a background in rock music, has often played music with political meaning. He imagines a future for himself in the type of performance art exhibited in “Let Freedom Ring,” and imagines spreading the idea of setting King’s speech to percussion.
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