Steven Sametz, Lehigh’s director of choral arts, wants students to question what it means to be an American at this point in our nation’s history — and they can do so through music.
In order to initiate dialogue on the topic, the university choir will perform a two-day concert, “I Hear America Singing,” held Oct. 27-28 in Zoellner Arts Center. Sametz said the concert will feature a classic American repertoire that has contributed to the cultural richness of the country.
“I could have certainly chosen a concert (about) a lot of dead white males to represent America, but I thought that wouldn’t be representative of where we are as a country right now,” Sametz said. “So, I chose to focus this conservation through music by immigrants or first-generation composers.”
The concert will also include the abolitionist verses of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” in an attempt to address the issue of how African-American’s may view being American.
Jackie Thomas, ’20, a member of the choir, said Sametz always gives students background information about the pieces they will sing. Choir members then get to talk about the music, where it comes from and why it is important.
“Music really is a great way to experience and share different perspectives,” Thomas said.
Because of this process, choir students have started to have discussions on heavier topics amongst themselves.
Sametz said he tries to make choir an experience that fosters conversation beyond music. To get students talking about the topic, there will be a pre-concert lecture on Oct. 28 at 3 p.m. The lecture will focus on how societies integrate and will be facilitated by the director of Lehigh’s music department, Tao Song Lee.
Following the Sunday show, there will be a panel discussion led by Jessica Liu, the graduate assistant for the Office of Multicultural Affairs. Students of various ethnic backgrounds will be represented on the panel and will help lead the discussion.
Choir manager Brian Logsdon, ’19, said when Sametz first introduced the idea for “I Hear America Singing” in August, the focus was different. Originally, the concert was going to consist of barbershop music and more traditional American songs. Sametz, however, came to realize that this music would not be an accurate representation of what America is today.
After the concert’s shift in focus, Logsdon’s job was to involve more students from different groups on campus. He reached to the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the Indian Student Association, the Center for Gender Equity and dance groups to get them involved.
“I think it’s a really important time to be willing to have an open dialogue and communication about certain issues instead of just fighting,” Logsdon said.