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New SLSO IN UNISON Publishing Partnership makes Choral-Orchestral Works by Black Composers Available Worldwide

By Eric Dundon

 

At the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra’s February 2024 Lift Every Voice concert, voices and instruments combined for a powerful experience, filling the Stifel Theatre’s large auditorium with uplifting music. One of the highlights was a performance of “It’s Working,” by Isaac Cates, a Missouri-based composer, pianist, vocalist, and teacher. Soprano soloist Jennifer Kelley brought the audience to its feet with her soaring vocals, backed by the IN UNISON Chorus, an 30-year SLSO resident chorus that specializes in music from the African diaspora. The chorus gradually built in volume—repeating the refrain “Know that all is working. Working for your good”—until it exploded in a melodious forte that elicited an enthusiastic round of applause from the crowd.

 

“It’s Working” was commissioned by the SLSO and IN UNISON Chorus and given its world premiere in by the ensembles in 2019. Now, thanks to a new partnership, Cates’ music will be available to ensembles worldwide.

 


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Soprano Jennifer Kelley, the SLSO IN UNISON Chorus, and the SLSO perform "It's Working" by Isaac Cates at the 2024 Lift Every Voice concert. The piece will soon be published and available worldwide as part of a new partnership between the SLSO and MorningStar Music Publishers.

The SLSO has entered into a visionary partnership with MorningStar Music Publishers that will publish sheet music of pieces performed and commissioned by IN UNISON Chorus. The collaboration will deepen the repertoire by Black composers and arrangers for combined choral and orchestral forces, as well as significantly broaden the impact of the IN UNISON Chorus.

 

Kevin McBeth, IN UNISON Chorus Director since 2011, said the start of this publication partnership is a realization of a dream.

 

“The legacy of this new choral series is not only the realization of a dream, but an opportunity to share the SLSO’s vision with choruses and orchestras around the world,” he said.

 

The vision, an orchestra that deeply engages with its community in meaningful and authentic ways, includes the SLSO’s multi-pronged IN UNISON program, an initiative begun in 1992 to engage primarily with St. Louis’ Black community. Embraced by the institution and its Music Directors for more than 30 years, IN UNISON started with a partner church program—which has grown to involve more than 30 churches in the St. Louis region. The chorus was added in 1994 and later came the IN UNISON Academy, which provides support and mentorship for students seeking careers in music fields.

 

In its 30 years, the chorus has grown to perform a wide range of repertoire, with pieces rooted in many traditions including gospel, soul, and spirituals.

 

The availability of these scores for combined choral and orchestral forces, though, is limited. The partnership with MorningStar Music Publishers will help change that.

 

Publication on the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra IN UNISON Choral Series begins this spring, starting with Cates’ “It’s Working” and “Lord, I Am Grateful,” by Emorja G. Roberson, Assistant Professor of Music and African American Studies at Oxford College of Emory University, first performed by the IN UNISON Chorus and the SLSO at the 2023 Lift Every Voice concert. Additional pieces will be added to the series on an ongoing basis. McBeth will edit the series for MorningStar.

 

“For 30 years, the IN UNISON Chorus has been a pioneering ensemble, meaningfully expanding the choral-orchestral repertoire of music by Black voices,” Marie-Hélène Bernard, SLSO President and CEO, said. “We are delighted that this new partnership will make music by Black composers and arrangers available for performance by ensembles internationally, advancing the mission of the IN UNISON Chorus.”

 

The series will also provide an avenue for Black composers to have their works available on a larger scale. For Roberson, composer of “Lord, I Am Grateful,” the series will mark the first time one of his works is published.



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The SLSO IN UNISON Chorus has focused on the performance and preservation of music from the African diaspora since its founding in 1994.

 

The collaborations with Cates and Roberson are core to the chorus’ mission of engaging with leading Black composers and arrangers. Composers who have worked with the chorus include Jeffery Ames, Rollo Dilworth, Moses Hogan, Nathalie Joachim, André Thomas, the late Dr. Robert Ray—prolific composer, teacher, and founding director of the IN UNISON Chorus, and others. its founding in 1994, the IN UNISON Chorus has performed several times each season with the SLSO, including the annual IN UNISON Christmas and Lift Every Voice: Celebrating Black History Month concerts, as well as a free community concert. The chorus has been supported since its founding by Bayer Fund.

 

All of us at MorningStar Music Publishers are excited to have a chance to work with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and the IN UNISON Chorus on this significant series of publications,” Mark Lawson, President of MorningStar Music Publishers, said. “The SLSO and its choruses are known around the world for impeccable musicianship, and this series will help provide a unique body of musical compositions for orchestras with choruses around the world.”

 

The partnership with MorningStar Music Publishers, a prominent publisher of classical and choral music, will fortify the chorus’ position as a leading ensemble in the development and performance of choral-orchestral repertoire by Black composers. Founded in 1986, MorningStar’s composer list has grown significantly over the past 35 years, and new composers are added each year. Based in Fenton, Missouri, MorningStar is part of the ECS Publishing Group, which publishes all genres of classical and sacred music, with a focus on choral music. ECS Publishing Group also owns Canticle Distributing, which maintains a large network of music dealers worldwide.

 

“MorningStar Music Publishers, with its strong network globally, is an essential partner in sharing this important body of music,” Bernard said.

 

 

Eric Dundon is the SLSO’s Public Relations Director.

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