Howard Magazine - Page 33 - Soulful Serenade - Continued from Page 32

Howard Magazine
- Page 33
Soulful Serenade - Continued from Page 32

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“Generally you wear a tuxedo or a long black suit,” he explains. “What Soulful does incredibly well is it represents all American culture. It debunks and demystifies hierarchies. There can be a curmudgeon culture that we do not have in Soulful.”


Atwater said it was happenstance that led to the creation of Soulful Symphony. “Twenty years ago I called my best friends — many of which were African Americans — and started an orchestra. It kind of has become a life unto itself,” he says. “The whole diversification of classical music? That’s not really what we are about. So I don’t see it as a safe space for classical musicians to come and experience classical music. Because that’s not what is going on.”


Instead, Atwater wants to change the way that American music is viewed.


“Traditional symphonies, the lion’s share of their repertoire— 99 percent of what they play — comes from the European canon,” Atwater says, adding that this country has been “wildly American” about everything else, from technology to sports to cuisine. He wants music to be treated the same way. “Soulful Symphony plays American roots music, American vernacular music. So we do everything from spiritual, gospel, jazz. We’ve done blues, hip-hop and that is the music that has been birthed from our soil. We have this great treasure of music that has been birthed from this tension of collisions of cultures.”


Atwater sees similarities between what Soulful Symphony is doing and what Alvin Ailey has accomplished in exploring American roots music through dance.


“Of course there is a space for African Americans who are not able to penetrate the ballet and the classical arts world. It becomes almost a subculture. You are forced to start something.” he says.


Atwater calls these groups “fundamentally American,” rather than a reaction to classical art. “Non-Americans never ask me about the race or reasoning of the ensemble.”


Regardless of the intention of the group, the result is magic, according to fan Caprece Jackson Garrett.


Jackson Garrett, a Baltimore-based culture historian, loves the group so much, that she organized — with the former head of the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture, Wanda Draper — “The Souls of Black Folk” concert, a performance before 1,500 people at Morgan State University.


“It’s also a very unique and distinctive take on the classic symphony experience,” Jackson Garrett says. “It’s rooted in the African American tradition, but it’s a cultural experience that everyone can enjoy. There’s only one Soulful Symphony in the world, and we have it right here.”