Press Room

Trinity Wall Street Presents “By the Waters of Babylon: A Celebration of the Power of Black Music in America” (May 7–10)

January 31 of this year marked the 150th anniversary of the momentous decision, made by a bitterly divided U.S. Congress at the end of the Civil War, to abolish slavery.  To commemorate the historic sesquicentennial, Trinity Wall Street and its galvanizing Director of Music and the Arts, Julian Wachner, present “By the Waters of Babylon: A Celebration of the Power of Black Music in America” (May 7–10). With composer portraits of Mary Lou Williams and Trevor Weston, a liturgical program showcasing Duke Ellington’s Sacred Service, a historical survey of spirituals led by Stanley Thurston, a reggae dance party, and a special collaboration between vocal innovator Bobby McFerrin and the Grammy-nominated Choir of Trinity Wall Street, this important festival comprises six free events in downtown Manhattan that honor the range of black music in America, and its inextinguishable power to transcend and transform. As Anthony Tommasini recognized in the New York Times when Wachner led Trinity’s forces in their first performance together at Carnegie Hall last month, “Adventure and ambition go hand in hand at Trinity Wall Street.”

Psalm 137, “By the Waters of Babylon,” which depicts the plight and yearnings of the Jews in exile, has long had especial resonance for blacks in America. The psalm asks “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?,” and Trinity’s festival offers a sampling of the myriad ways African- and Caribbean-Americans have sought to answer that harrowing question, from spirituals to jazz, reggae, classical concert music, and more.

Recently named one of “10 Imagination-Grabbing, Trailblazing Artists of 2014” (WQXR), Julian Wachner explains:

“In this festival, we will look at the power of black music, the ways it has impacted the history of America, and how it continues to be a distinct voice, in the struggle that still faces the nation and people of color in particular. It’s a really unique offering, with mission at its essence.”

Launching the festival is a Composer Portrait of Mary Lou Williams (1910–81), a pivotal but all-too-often-forgotten figure in the development of jazz. A pianist, composer, arranger, and lifelong educator, her big-band arrangements for bandleaders Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Earl Hines, and Tommy Dorsey made an indelible impact on the genre. Paying tribute to this unjustly neglected artist, the Chris Pattishall Quintet performs an original arrangement of Williams’s swinging, kaleidoscopic Zodiac Suite, an ambitious study of character and mood that first premiered at New York’s Town Hall in 1945 (May 7).

Next, guest conductor Stanley J. Thurston traces the history of the Negro Spiritual, leading the Choir of Trinity Wall Street in a program drawn from the collections of R. Nathaniel Dett (1882–1943), William Levi Dawson (1898–1990), Moses G. Hogan (1957–2003) and Thurston himself, as well as in arrangements by England’s Sir Michael Tippett (1905–98). Currently serving as artist-in-residence at the Washington National Cathedral, artistic director of the Heritage Signature Chorale, and artistic director of the Washington Performing Arts Society Choirs, the distinguished conductor has appeared on NBC’s Today Show and at Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center in collaboration with artists including Denyce Graves, Kathleen Battle, and Wynton Marsalis (May 8).

Trinity’s second Composer Portrait offers a retrospective of Trevor Weston (b. 1968). The contemporary composer’s numerous honors include the Goddard Lieberson Fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, which observes: “Weston’s compositions always reveal an elegance of expressive surface detail, a lucid formal structure, and often, an unexpected and innovative quality that reflects his refreshingly imaginative musical personality.” A longtime friend and colleague of the composer’s, with musical collaborations dating back to their St. Thomas Choir School days, Wachner conducts the Choir of Trinity Wall Street in a generous selection of Weston’s choral music that includes The Gentlest Thing, the 9/11-inspired Ashes, and Maa’at musings, which was originally commissioned and premiered under the auspices of Wachner himself (May 9).

Later that night, downtown audiences are invited to a Reggae Dance Party in the community-based space of St. Paul’s Chapel. A joyous and soulful celebration of Caribbean music and culture, the party builds on the success of the 2011 Bob Marley Tribute organized by Trinity’s Jamaican-born priest, the Rev. Dr. Mark Bozzuti-Jones (May 9).

On Sunday morning, Wachner and the Choir of Trinity Wall Street undertake a Choral Eucharist that incorporates jazz into the liturgy, with the Sacred Service of Duke Ellington (1899–1974). In his final years, the American jazz legend explored his spiritual side, composing a trio of “Sacred Concerts” – three grand-scale works drawing on the combined influences of jazz, classical music, choral music, spirituals, gospel, blues, and dance – that he considered “the most important thing I have ever done.” Given the near-prohibitive number of artists required, Trinity’s presentation marks a rare opportunity to hear Ellington’s masterly Sacred Service in live performance (May 10).

For the festival finale, ten-time Grammy Award-winning vocal phenomenon Bobby McFerrin leads the Choir of Trinity Wall Street, the Trinity Youth Chorus, and even the Trinity audience in a program of “Circlesongs,” his signature choral improvisations, in addition to performing his song “The Garden” and his feminine setting of Psalm 23, which is dedicated to his mother. Best known for his 1988 hit, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” McFerrin has collaborated with such jazz and classical greats as Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, and Yo-Yo Ma. His inimitable vocal technique and performance style are, however, truly unique; as the Los Angeles Times put it, “McFerrin’s greatest gift to his audience may be changing them from spectators into celebrants and transforming a concert hall into a playground, a village center, a joyous space” (May 10).

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When it comes to delivering ambitious festivals, Trinity Wall Street’s record is a stellar one. Past successes include the institution’s week-long tenth-anniversary 9/11 observances, which the New York Times pronounced “a stunning event,” and a fall season devoted to Benjamin Britten that proved to be “New York’s most substantial commemoration of Britten’s centennial” (New York Times).

About Trinity Wall Street
One of the oldest and most vibrant Episcopal parishes, Trinity Wall Street is located in the heart of Manhattan’s Financial District, where it has created a dynamic home for music; as the New York Times acknowledges, “Trinity’s music is indispensable and unmissable.” Serving as director of Trinity’s Music and the Arts Program – as well as principal conductor of the Choir of Trinity Wall Street, the period-instrument Trinity Baroque Orchestra, and contemporary-music ensemble-in-residence NOVUS NY – Julian Wachner also oversees all liturgical, professional and community music and arts programming at Trinity Church and St. Paul’s Chapel. The New York Times calls his leadership “inspiring,” while the New Yorker has described Trinity Wall Street as “a mini-Lincoln Center for downtown Manhattan.” The music at Trinity ranges from large-scale oratorios to chamber music, and from intimate a cappella singing to jazz improvisation. Many concerts at Trinity Wall Street are professionally filmed and webcast live at


Trinity Wall Street presents:
“By the Waters of Babylon: A Celebration of the Power of Black Music in America”

Except where noted, all performances take place at Trinity Church, Broadway at Wall Street, NYC

May 7 at 1pm
Composer Portrait: Mary Lou Williams
Mary Lou Williams (arr. Pattishall): Zodiac Suite
Chris Pattishall Quintet

May 8 at 7pm
“Dett through Dawson and Hogan through Thurston”
Tippett: By and by; Deep River; Go down, Moses; Nobody knows the trouble I see;
Steal away
The Choir of Trinity Wall Street; Stanley Thurston, guest conductor

May 9 at 7pm
Composer Portrait: Trevor Weston
Trevor Weston: Truth tones; O Daedalus, fly away home; The gentlest thing; My heart hath trusted in God; Visions of glory; Given sound; Rivers of living water; Ashes; Messe Ancienne; Maa’at musings
The Choir of Trinity Wall Street; Julian Wachner, conductor

May 9 at 10pm
St. Paul’s Chapel, Broadway at Fulton Street
Reggae Dance Party
Bob Marley’s Soulful Celebration

May 10 at 11:15am
Choral Eucharist
Duke Ellington: Sacred Service
The Choir of Trinity Wall Street; Julian Wachner, conductor

May 10 at 2pm
Bobby McFerrin and the Choir of Trinity Wall Street

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© 21C Media Group, April 2015

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